No, Aamir Khan wasn’t right at all

Are we really such an insecure society that we cannot tell the difference between an insult and a joke? All around me, various posts keep mushrooming about how the All India Bakchod ‪#‎AIBroast‬ was violent or racist or sexist or insensitive. People are sitting on high stools, passing judgments, talking about how it is not correct for the current situation and context of India.

Why did these people not rise up with such fervour when santa-banta jokes started doing the rounds? Or when Bharti became every household’s darling? Or when Comedy Nights with Kapil Sharma became the country’s most popular show? Or when Ekta Kapoor’s numerous regressive shows were floating around?

Why are a bunch of stand-up comedians being made an example of? Stand-up comedians have been cracking this country up for years now. And their content has been much more insulting that the Roast’s at times. But we laughed. We laughed because we knew it was in humour or satire. Like Charlie Hebdo. Like RK Laxman. Like Miranda. Like Tagore’s Tasher Desh. Like Ray’s Hirok Rajar Deshe. Humour and satire deserve the space, freedom and respect to function as an independent and democratic medium of critique.

I stand by Freedom of Expression. BUT, one should be well aware of what one is saying. Freedom of Expression is tricky business. The AIB Roast had multiple disclaimers (unlike Aamir Khan’s supposed ‘warning’ ad for Delhi Belly which is actually a promo in disguise). It was posted on YouTube, which requires you to be above 18 to watch mature content. It was the video version of a live event which was ticketed AND was for 18 year olds and above. Now, when someone like Aamir Khan criticizes this event and calls it ‘violent’ (there was a bunch of adults laughing at each other on an adult show meant for adults. No, not for kids, who can be scarred for life. But adults. That is ‘violent’ for the man who made Ghajini?), I have a problem with his Freedom of Expression. Like I have a problem with Praveen Togadia’s Freedom of Expression. Or everyone who spoke against Rushdie and Nasreen and Lars Von Trier and Kashyap and Rajkumar Hirani’s sensitive-but-abysmally made PK.

As for whether the content was funny or un-funny, that is for each of us to decide according to our preferences. I found the Ayesha Takia joke funny. You might say that it is not. But if you twist it around and say that it is an insult to large-breasted women, I WILL tell you to shut the fuck up.

Play that same fucking tirade in your head when you use ‘bhenchod’ to greet your best friend.

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The Best Indian Film at MAMI 2014: Nirbashito (Banished)

 

Every MAMI I diligently make it a point to watch all the Indian films being screened during the festival. Most of the good international films are available for download by the time MAMI is held (having travelled major international film festivals already) and it makes more sense to watch regional Indian films, mostly debuts of young hard working film makers, whose films, unfortunately, do not see the light of day due to the lack of distributors and financiers. So, yes, while people get into long queues to catch Boyhood, you will find my watching a Malayali film with just 5-6 people in the theatre for company.

Every year, one film shines the brightest for me. Last year, it was Devashish Makhija’s Oonga, an absolutely delightful cinematic experience. Anyone who has known me for more than a day, will have heard me gushing about that film. Unfortunately, Oonga will never be released. These independent films do not find interest, money or publicity even if they have well-known indie actors in their cast. Oonga holds a special place in my heart and the film maker – an engaging and extremely talented storyteller – is a dear friend today.

This year, the standout film for me is Nirbashito (Banished) by Churni Ganguly. I sat for the film’s premiere this evening, not expecting to be blown away two hours later. Sitting right next to film maker-artist mother-daughter duo, Lalita and Kalpana Lajmi and listening to them chatter about renowned film veterans, I watched a demure Churni Ganguly walk down the aisle and take a seat in the row right in front of me. I have watched all of Churni’s performances as an actor – mostly in Kaushik Ganguly’s films – and I must add that I am not a fan of hers. I have always felt that she lacks variety as an actor and often falls into the rut of set mannerisms. Therefore, while I did not know what to expect from her film, I was definitely curious to see what she had made.

Nirbashito tells the story of a poetess unceremoniously deported from her country for angering religious extremists with her writings. She pines for her country, friends and family in a far off land, living amongst people who speak an alien language and grapple to understand her angst. Most importantly, her only companion, a Persian cat, is all alone at home. The idiosyncrasies surrounding the cat and how everyone – from the Police Commissioner to the Embassies – try to pack the cat, aptly named Baaghini or Tigress, off to her owner forms the metaphor for a feisty woman’s indomitable spirit in a society that finds it easier to cower than stand by its beliefs. The poetess’s name is never mentioned in the film. The film is dedicated to MF Husain. Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is used in a shot to make a pivotal point. So, who is this poetess on whom the film is based? Her books have been banned, she has been abused and maligned for years, every time you utter her name, an uncomfortable silence descends…It has been 20 years since she was forced to leave her own country. Who is this poetess?

The film is based on true events from the lives of Taslima Nasreen and her cat, Minu.

The storyline is quite simple and Ganguly masterfully maneuvers the film away from the common pitfalls of drummed up sympathy and over-exaggerated melodrama. She does not force you to feel sorry for the poetess, but ensures that you are emotionally affected by the narrative. The hero of the film is the script – beautifully written, crisply edited, the dialogues are smart and steer clear of unnecessary sob fests, intelligent comic timing and witty repartee make the film’s screenplay an absolute treat. Exquisitely shot, the cinematography drives home a sense of loss, helplessness and fatigue. The commotion of Calcutta contrasts the Spartan monochromatic settings of Stockholm. Well-tailored and snipped of unnecessary flab, a tip of my hat to the editing department too. The background score supports the visual narrative, being a balancing act and not an overbearing presence.

As a director, this is a fantastic debut by Ganguly. And like I most childishly demanded of her after the film, you want film makers like her to make films more often. She has an independent voice, a strong vision and a confident hold of her text. More importantly, she is fearless about what she has to say. Not many directors would be comfortable discussing women’s orgasms on screen. Also, her innate humanity shines through in the film, making her the ideal film maker to deal with a subject like this. In a poignant scene, when her Swedish hosts try to gift a kitten to take her mind off her own pet, she beautifully explains every individual’s – human and animal – birthright to a mother and a home and how no political or religious authority has the right to decide otherwise. Such sensitive artists and such sensitive messages are the need of the day in our country today.

Ganguly brings together a host of talented actors who play their parts well. While the Bengali cast led by Saswata Chatterjee is a wonderful bunch of dim-witted buffoons, the Swedish actors are stoic and controlled, as demanded of their roles. Unfortunately, Raima Sen is increasingly getting reduced to the classically good-looking posh Bengali housewife in every film. I wish she chose films that offered her some variety. The cat is a lead character and if she could understand I’d tell her that she is a gorgeously talented piece of feline. Like Ganguly mentioned, the cat ‘acted’ every shot in the film as no computer graphics was used.

And finally, Ganguly as the poetess was a revelation. For someone who never enjoyed her performances, I was wowed by her controlled angst and burning fury that glowed like embers in the wind, not rising into flames but not beaten out completely either. Strong, expressive and measured – this is Churni Ganguly’s best performance till date. Not to mention her haunting voice reading Nasreen’s poems…When she says, she will be back, you shudder a little, you notice you have goosebumps…As if from a far away land a hot blast of wind suddenly made a prophesy.

My best wishes to Nirbashito and its wonderful cast and crew. May the film travel around the globe and be applauded, lauded and appreciated.

 

Image courtesy: Google Images

EXCLUSIVE: William Shakespeare discusses Haider and Vishal Bhardwaj

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Kaku (noun) – a term of endearment used for your father’s younger brothers AND any close acquaintance who is too young to be a Jethu (another avuncular term used for male members older to your father) but too old to be a Dada (older brother).

“So, did you watch Haider?”

He raised an eyebrow. I knew I was disturbing him. Willy kaku was bent over reams of paper, scribbling away on this new play he is working on these days. He refuses to tell me what it is about, lest I use the plot for my next play. He does not trust me at all. I don’t blame him. These days, people don’t believe he wrote all those plays and sonnets. They don’t believe he is a genius. How does a man feel when his hard work and outstanding creativity is butchered for the sake of just another conspiracy theory? Thus, his secrecy is understandable.

I remember watching Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool with Willy kaku. The man did not say a word, but I remember a smile, an approving smile that lingered on his mouth for hours after the film was over. He wasn’t quite impressed with Omkara, so, when he heard me gush uncontrollably about Bhardwaj’s latest adaptation of Willy kaku’s famous tragedy, Hamlet, he frowned. I urged him to go for the film. He looked pensive.

“To watch or not to watch is the question…” He finally sighed.

“Okay, cut out the drama. Go. Watch.”

“What if I don’t like it?” His cockiness is seething.

“Well, no one cares.” I walked out of the room, leaving him in his high back armchair, sheets of paper strewn everywhere, a never-leaving rusty smell of black ink and a smoky haze of the best cannabis.

So, when I saw him trod out for the film, I was elated. And also a tad scared. What if he did not like Haider?

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“So, did you watch Haider?”

He realized I wasn’t going anywhere without an answer.

“Yes.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“And thoughts?” Why was he acting so pricey?

Willy kaku smiled. He peered over his pince-nez and looked straight into my eyes.

“What did you think?” He asked. I breathed in. So he is opening a conversation. That is always a good thing.

“I think it was a fine adaptation. I am glad VB took the story out of an aristocratic setup and narrated a story of common people in the times of pain and despair.”

Willy kaku nodded. “Yes. The socio-political situation of Kashmir was a fantastic foil for the story.”

“And I feel, a contemporary re-telling of Hamlet would require a complex society, a complex background.”

“Why so?” He raised an eyebrow.

“Because, very frankly, the murder of a king, albeit by his brother, is no big deal today.” Okay, I don’t think I put it politely.

“No. Big. Deal.” He looked at me pointedly.

“You know what I am talking about,” I said. I did not want him to think that I was taking his plot lightly. “A regicide AND a fratricide was unthinkable back then, but that is not enough to shock the audience today. So, he killed his brother and married his sis-in-law after wooing her for a long time. Big deal.”

“Big. Deal.”

“I thought you agreed that the Kashmiri problem was a good backdrop?”

“Yes, but did it become more powerful than the plot? Was it too overbearing?” He was smiling again.

I nodded. Now that is a valid point. In Haider, VB simplifies all the sub-plots so that the political situation of Kashmir in 1995 and Haider’s bloodlust takes precedence. His relationship with Arshi (Ophelia) and its unfortunate deterioration is not dealt with. The role Ophelia’s father and brother (Polonius and Laertes) play in the downfall of Hamlet is non-existent. Ophelia’s death and its disastrous effect on Hamlet is not given enough screen time. Like VB mentions in an interview, Kashmir was his Hamlet. The dilemma that the people of the valley faced back then and even today is akin to the dilemma of Hamlet – whom do I trust? Should I take up arms and fight my own battle? Claudius or his father, whom should Hamlet believe? Years of confusion and broken promises make Kashmir an apt metaphor for Hamlet. But, is that a sufficient excuse to boil the narrative down to a one-plot one-mean one-end storyline?

I look up at Willy kaku. He is busy smoking. He finally notices me staring at him, helplessly.

“There, there. Do not be so disappointed. I know you love this Vishal fellow.”

I smiled.

“What else?” I asked.

“The girl who played Ophelia was hopeless.”

“So was Kay Kay. The actor who played Claudius, the brother.” I added.

Willy kaku nodded. “Yes, it seemed as if he was trying too hard…to act. And who is that charming fellow who played Roohdar?”

“Irrfan!” I gushed. “He was Macbeth in Maqbool, remember?”

“Ah yes! And I must commend Vishal. Roohdar! I am sure you young people would not find a ghost believable.”

The strength of VB’s adaptation lies in his ability to interpret the play’s dramatic and creative elements in a modern setting. No one would believe Haider’s resolution to kill his uncle if his father’s ghost appeared, telling him to avenge his death (like it happens in the original play). Therefore, Roohdar, a mysterious figure, who is supposed to have been in the same detention centre as Haider’s father becomes the bearer of his father’s will. Do we believe Roohdar? Is Roohdar trying to fulfill some ulterior motive of his own? Does Haider eventually become a pawn in a larger ploy? Instead of being supernatural, Roohdar remains a mystery who is introduced and shot delectably like a rockstar, but is never completely revealed to the audience. Like Willy kaku’s earlier commentators, even today’s audience asks that crucial question – Should Haider have trusted Roohdar?

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Similarly, the way VB treats the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is pure genius. They are die-hard Salman Khan fans who, even before killing a man, find pleasure in doing a pelvic thrust and mouthing bhai’s dialogue. They bring in the right amount of comic relief and tomfoolery that all Shakespearean tragedies have.

While I would have loved Arshi to have jumped into the river to kill herself (remember how Rishi Kapoor’s body was found in Fanaa, floating in the river, under a transparent sheet of ice? I wish that is how Arshi’s body was found by her brother Liyaqat. Maybe this has to do with my obsession with Millais’s painting “Ophelia”) rather than shooting her head, her psychological breakdown after her father’s murder was beautifully portrayed by the unraveling of the red muffler she had gifted him.

The scene where Haider chances upon Khurram confessing to his brother’s arrest during dua and then decides to not kill him because those killed during prayer go straight to heaven, is an adaptation masterclass. It is a crucial scene which emphasizes on Hamlet’s innate goodness and principles. He could have stabbed Claudius right then but chooses not to. Haider holds the gun squarely on the back of Khurram’s head and is prepared to pull the trigger but chooses not to. The power and palpable energy of the scene make it so memorable.

“The film looked like a painting, didn’t it?” I shake myself back to reality. Willy kaku takes a long drag of his joint and looks at me.

“The cinematography, yes. It was magnificent.” I said. “It was stark and yet, engaging. But again, you can never go wrong with blood on snow. It is a time-tested combination.”

Willy kaku laughed out loud. “You are right. There is a kind of romance in the way a bleeding dead body looks when it lays on show. You feel sorrow, but you also appreciate the beauty of the contrasting colours.”

“Like washing your blood stained hands in a pool of water and watching it turn red?” I mischievously grinned. He knew I was referring to that famous monologue from Macbeth. He knows how besotted I am with that play.

Also, after a long time, a film actually has a commendable literary quality. The dialogues are beautifully written in Hindi and Urdu with strong Pashtu influences. Even segments that have been adapted – Hamlet’s famous ‘to be or not to be’ monologue – acquire an individual quality. This adds another layer to the adaptation, creating individuality and strong cinematic identity in spite of being based on an existing text. And this is achieved even while adapting the characters. While Haider might be a simplistic Hamlet, Ghazala is a wonderful Gertrude. Ghazala is primal, emotional and instinctive. She is a mother who seems to be ruled by a sweet sixteen’s hormones. She is dangerous. It is this characteristic of hers that enriches the sexual tension between her and Haider. VB establishes it early in the film when a young Haider dabs his mother’s neck with ittar and then kisses it. Later, before the film’s climax, a sexually charged moment is created when Ghazala kisses Haider for the last time. When she holds his gaze, the audience holds their breath – Will she kiss him on the mouth? The relationship is emotionally charged with moments of intense love (swinging between maternal and sexual) and fiery hate. A sure shot – and unfortunate – recipe for disaster. None of the other relationships in the film are paid as much attention as Haider-Ghazala’s.

“And what a Gertrude she was! She was a better Gertrude than a Lady Macbeth.” Willy kaku exclaimed. I smiled. Haider might be one of Tabu’s top five performances. The woman allows herself to be engulfed by such animalistic passion and fervour that she scares you. When she holds the revolver to her temple, blackmailing her son to admit to her decision, her eyes express emotions that require a certain depth of human understanding and acting prowess that only the greats can deliver. Tabu is bewitching in Haider and her witch-like evil beauty is haunting. Is she good or bad? Is she the predator or the prey? The criminal or the victim? Tabu’s Ghazala swings between these extremities.

“What do you think about the music?” Willy kaku asked.

“Please, with all due respect and stuff, that’s not your area.” I joked.

“I enjoy music too. I thought Vishal did a fantastic job.”

“The songs had such beautiful Kashmiri and Middle-Eastern influences. Especially Ao Na and Bismil.” I agreed.

“Yes, that gravediggers scene was beautifully executed. I love the way they were introduced. Who knew someone could be so good at dark humour.” He chuckled.

“Are you complimenting VB or yourself, Willy kaku?”

Other than my infatuation with the film’s adept adaptation, I have – yet again – fallen in love with Shahid Kapoor. I have always believed that he is a talented actor who needs a director accomplished and intelligent enough to harness his acting prowess. VB did that successfully with Kaminey. But with Haider, Shahid delivers a performance that should make him proud. It is important for an actor to deliver at least one performance that satisfies him. Haider will do that for Shahid. Shahid creates both method and mania with his madness. He oscillates between suppressed passion bursting at its seams and angry outbursts that lack coherence and pragmatism. He is both thoughtful and careless. Calculative and spontaneous. The prayer scene in which he stands behind Khurram with a revolver in his hand, to shoot or not to shoot, is an example of Shahid’s growth as an actor and his painstaking involvement with the character.

“So, do you like VB?” I asked him.

“He is a brave man, son,” Willy kaku sighs. “He has faith in his content, he does not fall for the usual traps of commerce, he points fingers…He is unafraid to accuse.”

“He changed the ending completely though.”

Willy kaku smiled.

“And that shows how well he understands the need of these times. Like the good ol’ man said, an eye for an eye…”

Of Daaru, Dhrupad and Dadra

As a metaphor for intellectual stimulation or the bone of contention for the nagging housewife, alcohol has found favour and ire in various genres of Indian music. For the longest time I wanted to spend hours researching on the marriage of my two beloved vices – Indian music and alcohol. While this might not be comprehensive, I guess I have been able to scratch the surface a little and capture the chemistry (or should I say alchemy) they share. And if you were me, there is never too much of either of them.   

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Dhrupad and Khayal (Classical and Semi-classical Music)

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Dhrupad is the oldest and parent form of Indian music which provides the structure of sur (melodies and compositions) and taal (rhythm). Known as Khayal in its modern freestyle forms, it led to the creation of semi-classical genres like Kajri, Thumri and Qawwali. Dhrupad verses typically talk about romance and marriage, mostly referring to Krishna from the perspective of Radha or other cow girls. Alcohol is often used as a metaphor to insinuate intoxication, like in the popular thumri, ras ke bhare tore nain saawariya/tadpat ho more din rain saawariya (the wine of your eyes, my love/tortures my day and night, my love) and the bandish in Raag Malkaus, raseeli rang daare/pee ke khoye chain (your intoxicating colours/give me a high – a reference to the festival of Holi). Later, the verses began mirroring social habits and behaviour and the focus shifted from Radha-Krishna to everyday relationships. Jao jao sayyian, sauten ke saath raho (Go away, lover/live with your mistress) is the bold rejection of a housewife who tells the husband, in the second couplet, to stay away from her as he is dead drunk – pee ke ho choor choor/rahiyo humse door door. Ankhiyon se na piyo/jaam hori khaali (Don’t drink with your eyes/the bottle is finishing) is the seductive invitation to the lover to stop drinking with only his eyes and come closer.

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Ghazal

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One of the primary subjects of Ghazals (the other being romance), alcohol has found various forms in the ashaar or couplets of innumerous poets over centuries. Mirza Ghalib obviously is the most respected and renowned of Urdu-Persian poets, his love for the bottle and mockery of hypocritical clerics being recurrent features in his poetry. Zaahid sharaab peene de masjid mein baith kar/ya woh jagah bataa jahaan par Khuda na ho (Let me drink in the mosque/or send me there where God does not exist) remains one of his most philosophical lines accusing the faithful of restricting God’s presence to religious boundaries. On a more romantic note, he flirts with the wine girl – pila de ok se saaqi jo hum se nafrat hai/pyaala gar nahin deta na de, sharaab toh de (Serve me wine in cupped hands if you hate me/don’t give me a glass if you want, pour the wine, please). Syed Allahabadi writes, gar aag maikashon ki sazaa hai to yaa Khuda/dozakh mein ek nahar bahaa de sharaab ki (If the drunk will be punished with Eternal Fire/God, make a canal of wine in Hell), portraying the popularity of alcohol, as does the famous Pankaj Udhas Ghazal, kabhi nahi pad sakta yaaro maikhane mein taala/ek do chaar nahi hai, saara sheher hai peene waala (the wine house cannot be shut down/not just one or two, the whole town drinks). On a different note, Akbar Allahabadi’s famous lines, hungama hai kyun barpa, thodi si jo pee hai (Why the fuss? I have just drunk a little) symbolized his love and belief in Hindu-Muslim unity, something he had been heavily criticized for by the Muslim League.

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Qawwali

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A semi-classical style, Qawwali can be both spiritual (Sufi) and romantic in nature. Hamd or Naat, which are the spiritual kinds devoted to Allah, the Prophet (pbuh) and other saints, do not have any direct references to alcohol of course. Khumaar or intoxication is often spoken of as a concept, a higher state of spiritual ecstasy achieved through meditation and prayer – Tali har balaa humari/chhaya hai khumaar tera (My obstacles have been removed/you have left everyone intoxicated). This likening of spiritual high with drunkenness is unique to Sufi poetry and music and takes up different forms – the whirling dervishes would be one of them. Regional flavours are found in Punjabi Qawwalis like gal kar koi peen pilawan dee/rut langna jaawe saawan dee (let’s talk about drinking before the monsoons end), as people of the region have always enjoyed drinking during the rains. Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Sahab’s treasure trove of romantic Qawwalis often uses alcohol to signify feminine beauty and romance. Nothing can be more romantic than the lines, Yeh jo halka halka suroor hai/yeh teri nazar ka qasoor hai/teri behki behki nigah ne/mujhe ek sharabi bana diya (This tipsiness, I blame your eyes for it/that look in your eyes, made a drunkard of me).

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Bhajan

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Devotional music or hymns are as old as Dhrupad sangeet itself and over centuries, guided by regional and sectarian preferences, Indian music has sung praises of various deities. Bhajans can be both respectful and irreverent in nature – Gods are praised for their kindness and mocked for their human weaknesses. Shiva has been a favourite of Shaivite Bhajan writers who fondly talk of his love for bhang, ganja and som ras (a Vedic drink with intoxicating qualities). Som peeke naache Bhole baba/sab karo parnaam (Shiva dances happily after drinking som/worship Him, everyone) and Peeke ek bhang ka pyala/mast mast hua Bhola (After a drink, Shiv is enjoying a high) are crowd favourites that one can often hear in Haridwar and Benaras. Vaishnavite Bhajans sing of Krishna and poets like Sur Das, Tulsi Das and Meera Bai (doyens of the Bhakti movement) are the primary contributors to this school of hymns. Intoxication becomes the metaphor for spiritual knowledge and awakening in their Bhajans, an interesting similarity shared with Sufi poets. Meera Bai’s Raam naam ras peeje manawa/taja ku-sanga, sat-sanga baith nita/hari charcha suni leeje/Meera ki prabhu Giridhar nagara/tahike rang mein bheeje (Drink the name of Ram/abandon bad company, sit with the pious/listen to the holy hymns/Meera’s lord is Krishna/she is drenched in his colour) is a shining example of the Bhakti period’s social relevance – drinking was a common social vice everyone was battling with.

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Folk

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Different regions in the country have indigenous folk music or lokgeet forms which mirror society and talk of prevalent ideologies and philosophies. While the Maharashtrian Lavani is erotic and boisterous in its treatment, egging men on to the pleasures of life, the Baul and Bhatiyali of the East is more introspective in nature. Lavani and Tamasha performances objectify nautch dancers, often comparing them to other immoralities like drinking. The Rajasthani Podina songs are irritated complaints of housewives who are frustrated with their inebriated husbands – ojhuk jaaye re hariya podina. The Bauls and Fakirs of Bengal and Bihar sing of finding God in one another, brotherhood and a universal religion. A famous Lalon Fakir number, Khejur gaache haari baandho mon/shujon gaache bandhle haari milbe ashol chini/je roshik hobe bujhe libe/ beroshik bujhbe na go ashhadon (Tie your mind like a pot on good Palm trees for sweeter knowledge), talks beautifully of seeking enlightened company just like the toddy-seller searches for healthy Palm trees to make good quality liquor. Bhatiyali are songs sung by boatmen to avoid boredom while rowing. Rupali nodi re, roop dekhe tor hoiyasi pagol/cholish tui dolok dolok, maatla cholok cholok (O silver river, your beauty drives me mad/your soft waves are like drunken swagger) is one of the innumerous odes to nature in Indian folk music.

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Photo courtesy: Google Images

Man’s World India, March, 2014 – Arjun Kapoor: Dude in the Hood

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Arjun Kapoor on balancing Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra, loving the films of Bollywood’s most hated decade, being the most invisible star kid and becoming Bollywood’s newest Fat-to-fit story.

By Arnesh Ghose

Photographs by Colston Julian/Salt Management

Styled by Rhea Kapoor

I wish Arjun Kapoor threw tantrums. If you didn’t pay attention, it’d be easy to lose him in a crowd. And, I mean that as a compliment. He’s not vain enough for a movie star (his hair being the exception; he keeps checking his properly-set tuft often), doesn’t holler to attract attention, minds his own business in between shots and doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable around him. He’s quite the professional — punctual and uncomplaining during  several dress changes, and while smoking one cigarette after another, has a cool, endearing swagger that’s also very desi.

“Hindi mein kare?” Kapoor jovially asks when I’m about to start the interview. I shoot his request down; he dims a little. I was aware of his obsession with the masala genre of Indian cinema, the true essence of commercial Bollywood, and had seen him in his element in numerous talk shows and public appearances. My insistence on interviewing him in English made him a different person. He speaks in a well-bred manner and has an impressive vocabulary, but one can see a simmering need for that maniacal, street-smart, rustic rascal to jump right out. I look at him — sharp grey suit, impeccable hair, polished teeth, eating spaghetti — and wonder how his debut role in Habib Faisal’s Ishaqzaade was so different from all this. And, yet, that role was his comfort zone.

Read the complete story here.

 

OSCAR LIVE!: Lupita Nyong’o wins Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Female


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Lupita Nyong’o wins the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Female for Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave.

12 Years a Slave is a 2013 British-American historical epic drama film and an adaptation of the 1853 memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free negro who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana for twelve years before his release. The first scholarly edition of Northup’s memoir, co-edited in 1968 by Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon, carefully retraced and validated the account and concluded it to be accurate.

This is the third feature film directed by Steve McQueen written by John Ridley. Chiwetel Ejiofor starred in the leading role of Northup. Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt and Alfre Woodard featured in supporting roles. Principal photography took place in New Orleans, Louisiana, from June 27 to August 13, 2012, on a production budget of $20 million. The locations used were four historic antebellum plantations: Felicity, Magnolia, Bocage, and Destrehan. Of the four, Magnolia is nearest to the actual plantation where Northup was held.

12 Years a Slave received critical acclaim following its release in 2013, and was named the best film of the year by several media outlets. It also proved to be a box office success, earning over $128 million on a budget of $20 million. In 2014, the film was awarded the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and received nine Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director for McQueen, Best Actor for Ejiofor, Best Supporting Actor for Fassbender, and Best Supporting Actress for Nyong’o. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) recognised the film with a Best Film award and a Best Actor award for Ejiofor.

Big Mouth Diaries: The Big Fat Bangali ‘Pheesht’

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Holi is just around the corner. Here’s a page from the Big Mouth diary.

12th March, 2012: Dol or Holi is a very big deal at home. And like all Bengali homes, we also have Holi-specific cooking on this colourful day. While numerous sweet dishes include besan ke laddoo, badam ke laddoo, corn halwa, besan halwa, jalebi, motichoor ke laddoo, malpua, and innumerable gulab jamuns and roshogollas, I generally deal exclusively with the thandai and the kosha maangsho or thick mutton curry. My mother handed the kitchen over to my uncle and me last year, relaxing and playing holi with my aunt and her friends all through the day. It is one hell of a responsibility in a Bengali home, I tell you.

I generally prepare the thandai the previous night to let the syrup ripen its flavours. It is a gruelling process as I love sticking to the traditional method of pasting the watermelon seeds-khus khus-peppercorn-almonds-rose petals and other dry ingredients and then diluting and running the syrup through a muslin strainer over and over until all residues have been excluded. Then, with a cupful of rose water, half a litre of sugar syrup, and cardamom powder, the thandai base sits overnight in the refrigerator. In the morning, when everyone is effectively thirsty, the ‘bhar’ or clay cups are filled 3/4th with the syrup and then with kesari milk. Heaven!

The mutton is a long drawn process as my uncle hates steaming it first in the pressure cooker. So, the meat is marinated in a curd-and-spices mixture overnight and then fried in caramelized onions-garlic-ginger-tomatoes masala. A host of other spices, from nihari to shahi garam masala is used copiously to make the most succulent and spiciest mutton gravy ever.

Holi is a traditional day, when the whole family of uncles and aunts and cousins sit down on the floor with sal and banana leaf plates and enjoy a piping hot lunch with maangsho-bhaat – Bengali picnic style!

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What happens at your home on Holi? Share your stories here! And if you have any traditional Holi recipe that is unique to your family, I am all ears!

Big Mouth!

(Juvenile writing, I know. But such delicious memories!)