Sunday, November 7, 2010

Whose English is it Anyway?

LIFE IS A constant battle where we are mere warriors. The one who can overcome all the hurdles and come out victorious is the real winner. So keep fighting, because you can’t afford to loose the...

Hey, hold on a second! Was it actually what I read or did my vision dip suddenly? Okay, let’s rewind.

...because you can’t afford to loose the war.

There goes another brick in the wall of English slip-ups. Phew!

Facebook statuses provide an interesting glimpse into an individual’s life, his thoughts and musings (this isn’t applicable to every one of course; some just do Ctrl C + Ctrl V). So I frequently keep on checking and commenting on my friends’ status updates, and that’s how I came across this catastrophic quote. We definitely want to win every battle in life, but if we don’t win we lose, we don’t loose! Urghh! It’s really annoying to find people repeating this mistake of adding an extra ‘O’ to the word. I’ve noticed bunches of examples of people (including my friends all of whom are gonna kill me after reading this), mostly on the internet, writing the word ‘loose’ when what they really mean is ‘lose’. Is it just an innocent typo, or do they need a quick recap of their long forgotten Wren & Martin lessons? Silly!

So guys, when your girlfriend dumps you, you lose her, not loose her (just try and imagine the situation of loosing someone’s girlfriend!). Similarly, when it comes to my weight, I would like to lose it as much as I can, not loose weight. You can’t afford to be a looser all the time!

Such goofs are commonplace in our everyday life. We might take pride in claiming that we walk English, talk English and eat English, but many a times what we end up doing is talk shitty English. So what if there’s an extra ‘O’? The point is to communicate and that’s what we all do, you might argue. That’s precisely the commonest — and the lamest — excuse I always confront. I mean, what’s so cool about speaking wrong English?

Reading so far, if you are wondering who the hell am I to give so much gyaan on English speaking or whether you’ve by mistake logged in to a ‘learn proper English’ site, please stop wondering and read on.

I, by no means, assert myself as Shakespeare’s godson or the next-in-line editor of Oxford’s dictionary. Nor do I proclaim that I speak impeccable English. However I try to stay away from committing such faux pas, though not quite successfully always. A few days back I had a similar foot-in-your-mouth situation when my friend asked me whether I was leaving for home early. I replied, “No dude, I’m here only.”

Here only! How on earth could I say that! Not that it’s incorrect, but perhaps we Indians will never be able to get rid of the habit of using an unnecessary only at the end of the sentence. Need more proof? Sample this: once while travelling with a friend I asked him to take a particular route, to which he replied, “Dude, that will be a long cut. Let’s take the other way.” Here’s another one: “The outing has been preponed to next Sunday,” I heard a friend of mine saying. I could never make them understand that there are no English words as long cut and prepone, and they ain’t in any way opposites of ‘short cut’ or ‘postpone’.

That’s Indianised English, goes the popular defence. And it’s true in a way. After all, these words have blended so profusely in our lingo that we hardly get amazed when someone asks us, “What’s your goodname, Sir?” Ask this question to any gora and all you’ll get in reply is protruding eyes! Then there’s the vernacular practice of saying Mention not in response to ‘Sorry’, which ideally and grammatically should be banned from our vocab. So next time, you hear the word ‘Sorry’, you know what you ought not to mention!

Use of plurals is our forte, anywhere and everywhere. That’s why the bus conductor shouts ‘Aaste, ladies’ (Stop, the ladies is getting down!) even when there’s a single woman getting down from the bus. That’s why we unhesitatingly say ‘this toffee costs just one rupees without noticing that there exists a fine difference between Rupee and Rupees. That’s why we use the word anyways so confidently that we’ve forgotten it actually doesn’t need an ‘S’ for support. That’s why we pop up in the middle of a conversation ‘yaar, ek jokes sunata hoon’ and everybody ends up LOLing (at the jokes, not the goof) Anyways, who cares?

Finally comes the googly — stressing words. We are so fond of emphasising whatever we are saying that we don’t shy away from putting two dispensable (and at times contradictory) words in the same bracket, giving some of the funniest combinations. Sample these: real fact, clearly misunderstood, exact estimate, act naturally, found missing, fully empty. I bet you must’ve heard the backbencher guy in the college saying, “Sir, can you please repeat the last line again?” Or one of your friends asking you angrily, “When will you return my Step Up DVD back?”

If you are still wondering what’s wrong with the above sentences or words, may your soul rest in peace.

P.S. – This is something is googled the other day. Remember we used to chant the numerical tables in our childhood? Two one za two, two two za four blah blah blah. Ever wondered what does the word ‘za’ stands for? The multiplication sign of course, would be the unanimous answer. Boy, here lies the catch. It’s actually supposed to be read as ‘two ones are two’, ‘two twos are four’. Now before you decide to guillotine me for this pakau post, think over it (the za theory I mean, not the guillotine thingy)!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Those were the Best Days of My Life

IT WAS A lazy Saturday afternoon when I first stepped into the Jadavpur University campus. Board exams over, I had come to my pishi bari, when my cousin offered me a campus tour. ‘You will surely fall in love with it,’ he asserted confidently.

My cousin doesn’t really have the reputation of being a future-predictor, but that day miracles were bound to happen. As we strolled along pitch black asphalted lanes of the campus shaded with lush green trees (it had rained the previous night making the trees look paintinesque) whizzing past the lofty departmental buildings, Science More, AC Canteen, Central Library, Jheel paar, Engineering ground and Aurobindo Bhavan, I experienced the miracle. I was in love. With JU. Standing right there amidst the descending twilight I promised to myself, ‘I am gonna study at this university, no matter whatever happens.’


I did. I still can’t describe the happiness I felt when I got the news of my selection in JU. It was ethereal. Even at the risk of being labelled a ‘certified nut’ (I cancelled my admission from the prestigious Presidency College ignoring the constant glares from my parents) I enrolled in JU. And thus began the fairy tale. From that rain-soaked day of August when I walked into the Orientation room battling with my nervousness and excitement to that December morning when we strutted about the campus in our saffron robes waiting to be convocated — every single moment in these three years has been worth a lifetime.

However all those 1,095 days of ecstasy would have been completely meaningless had I not met ‘them’. It was on the second day that ‘we’ got introduced. At that moment I didn’t have the faintest idea that these five crazyheads — Ani, Pri, Ups, Mou and Drone — would for the coming three years make my JU experience something to boast about for my entire life. Unlike my schooldays, I didn’t skip a single college day during graduation. It was not because I loved attending the boring lectures, but because I hated missing the chitchat with my friends and the tomfoolery we used to do throughout the day. Drone didn’t accompany us beyond the classes, but the rest of us used to stick together like an inseparable quintet. Be it in classroom, canteen, library, photocopy centre or leisurely walk around the campus — ‘we’ were everywhere.

Adda spots in a college generally constitute the canteen or the common room. But JU provided myriad options. We mostly used to hang out in departmental classrooms during the lunch breaks. Milan da's canteen did not have much space to sit. So I would bring food — dalpuri-tarkari, alur chop, iced tea — from there and share it with the tiffin brought by Ups and Pri (they religiously used to carry tiffin boxes everyday stuffed with homemade goodies). Our other hang out zones (during off periods or class bunks) included the bench in the corridor near the front stairs of the department, the back staircases at the rear end of the corridor, the long wooden bench beside the window in the Film Studies department, Jheel paar and at times AC Canteen.

We had even discovered another weird adda spot — a small shop named ‘Mazumdar Xerox’ in a blind lane near Jadavpur 8B bus stand where we used to photocopy tons of pages everyday from various reference books. Quite naturally, we spent a great deal of time in the shop chatting away (that gave everyone the impression we have no work to do than idling our time sitting there) and munching on the nearby Monginis, Bawarchi and Hindustan Sweets delights. We had nicknamed the shop as Machhimara Xerox owing to the large number of flies parading from the opposite sweet workshop to give us company. The name became so popular that everyone from our class actually forgot the original name and started calling it by Machhimara (fortunately the owner wasn’t aware of this ‘name-calling’!).

The Film Studies department has a distinct charm of its own. We felt more cosy spending some lazy lamhe in that wooden bench of Film Studies than in any of our International Relations classrooms. The window right beside overlooked a considerable stretch of JU (the department being on the top floor of UG Science building), particularly the famous Hanging Bridge. Standing there and witnessing dusk setting in all over the campus was absolutely outworldly. I still get goosebumps imagining those moments.

Jheel paar — we called it Vrindavan at times — is basically the lovers’ den of JU frequented by couples of various ages (you might find a cautious First year couple sitting right beside a desperate Ph.D couple) and departments. We had no such purpose to visit there, except throwing comments on a few adventurous couple on the verge of ‘making’ love rather than ‘feeling’ it!

It’s been almost three years since I had hurriedly got down at Gate No. 4 from auto to attend the 10.20 morning class, stepped into the classroom, taken down notes of SC or PPB, eaten dalpuri at Milan da at 1.40, walked along the Jheel paar, rushed to CL to find a book that Partho da had declared wasn’t available in DL, waited at Machhimara for photocopies or chatted all the way from Jadavpur 8B to Garia in the auto with Pri and Ups. But surprisingly I remember all these as if it were yesterday. This, I suppose, is one of the many symptoms of you-can-leave-JU-but-JU-won’t-leave-you syndrome.

The past few months have been a real roller coaster. I left Kolkata, came to Noida, got enrolled in a film school, started staying alone and a series of things happening all at the same time. And still I went to the first class hoping it would be a déjà vu of the JU orientation. Everytime I chat with my friends over here, I can’t help but miss my university all the more. I miss TC’s blatant dictation of Gandhism notes, the cold looks of SS, KS’s awful diction and our sudden laughter imagining his face with that of a pig, DC’s perfect lullaby tone in her sleepathon classes, Ani’s rendering of boka boka, his ceaseless bickering with Drone on Bangal-Ghoti, Pri’s mimicry, her obsession with Shahid Afridi to the extent of declaring Karachi as her sasurbari, Ups’s repitition of other’s words in a way as if she’s saying it for the first time, Mou’s grandmotherly attitude and our constant comparison of her with gomata.

I miss the Friday film screenings at Film Studies, Mainak Sir’s Indian cinema classes, the evening Spanish classes with Tarun and Mahijit, Abhijit Gupta’s swinging ponytail, English department balcony, the mashi-pishi book store at UG Arts, xerox mall, chicken chowmein at Mani da’s, dhoper chop at Milan da’s, coffee at AC Canteen, running at a marathon speed to the department from almost anywhere after knowing that the result is out, waiting in a long queue at Aurobindo Bhavan for paying fees, the hanging bridge, the phuchka seller outside Gate No. 2, OAT, Fests, Freshers’ Welcome that stopped midway due to announcing of mid-sem results, university elections, Holi celebrations, our late night study sessions before mid-sem or end-sem, my innumerable phone conversations with Pri before exam discussing how many topics to skip.


I visited JU once before shifting to Noida. It was kinda relive-the-good-ol’-days exercise. I took a walk round the campus, visited the places we used to spent hours at. Everything was the same, but inside I could feel the difference. The pitch black lanes criss-crossing the campus remained the same, only I had moved ahead. I’m no longer a part of the buildings, classrooms, roads, canteens or the jheel. I know I can still come back and experience it, but the feeling wouldn’t just be the same.

Last night after finishing the article, I called up Pri and narrated a portion of it to her. ‘Why are you making it so personal? Those who haven’t studied in JU — or more specifically IR department — won’t be able to comprehend your write-up. Make it more fluid. Let the non-JUites too get a feeling of what the place is like,’ she said. But how can you not be personal when you’re writing about your love affair? Whenever I think of my university now, all I see is a collage of images that I’ve attempted to pen down as accurately as possible. And that, I suppose, quite explains the significance of the title. This is what I say if someone asks me about my college days. Those were the best days of my life. Period.


Image courtesy: Jayita Sarkar

Saturday, July 24, 2010

To Ma'am, With Love

THE PHONE CALL came at 9.15 in the morning. It was Aditi. ‘Hey, what’s up?’ talking to an old friend is always a mood-uplifting experience. But my excitement was short-lived, for her voice appeared gloomy and distressed. ‘There’s a bad news. J. Roy Ma’am has passed away last night,’ was all she could say.

Silence. An intense painful silence. Words didn’t occur to me. Instead, images flashed through my mind. I toddled back in time. Year 2001. Class X. That’s me, sitting on the third bench. It’s the Maths period, but Ma’am hasn’t yet come to the class. Everyone is busy chatting, giggling and playing pranks on one another. Suddenly J. Roy Ma’am enters. Within a split of a second the atmosphere transforms. There’s now a pin-drop silence in the classroom. Everyone takes out his exercise copy like an obedient student and starts noting down the sums that Ma’am has written on the blackboard. Any attempt at whispering or looking at each other’s copies is met with a stern glance from Ma’am. Always.

That was our J. Roy Ma’am. Strict, disciplined, uncompromising, yet at the same time lovable and endearing. She knew how to take the best out of any student. In school, we had a habit of calling the teachers as ‘Miss’. So invariably Mrs. Jhara Roy ended up being called J. Roy Miss!

Ma’am used to take our Maths and Chemistry classes. But that wasn’t all. She had an amazing grasp on every other subject and whenever she took substitution classes for History, Bengali or English, we used to listen more attentively than we did in the regular classes. In every event and activity of the school, it was J. Roy Ma’am who took the lead. Be it the Sports Day, Annual Function or even smaller occasions like Children’s Day and Teacher’s Day, her involvement in every part of the programme was outstanding. From deciding which dance recital would be performed to selecting the costumes of the drama characters, J. Roy Ma’am was our Man Friday. The Principal too was quite fond of her. No other teacher (yes, I dare say that) commanded the kind of respect, admiration and love from the students that Ma’am did.

I was quite weak in Maths during my schooldays and managed to get pretty average marks in exams. That’s why in the year of my Boards, I decided to take private tuitions from Ma’am like many other students of my class. It was there that I discovered a different J. Roy Ma’am — not the angry lady I used to be so afraid of in school, but the motherly woman who chats and shares a joke with her students as we do with friends. Not just studies, Ma’am was concerned about our likes and dislikes too. Our Saturday tuitions used to stretch for almost four hours in the morning. So before leaving, we all used to munch on the shingara, labangalatika and jilipi ordered by Ma’am for us. Every week.

During the final months before Boards, Ma’am used to call two students everyday to her house for special Maths classes. They came in the morning, stayed the entire day practising sums and left in the evening. When my turn came, the day turned out to be more memorable than I had expected. I had so much fun at her place. We studied, chatted, had lunch together, took a little rest and then studied again. At lunch, she served us chicken but didn’t take it herself. When we asked about her share, she replied, ‘Kal Sunday chilo. Tai chicken korechilam. I knew you two would be coming today. So I had kept aside some of it for you.’

We must get up at 6 in the morning and study late in the night — was her strict order. In fact, Ma’am used to call up at everyone’s house early in the morning as well as late at night to ensure that we follow her instructions. I don’t know any other teacher to have done that. She even made us a routine as to what subject we should study and when. I still remember Ma’am told me one day, ‘Abhijit, you’ve the potential to score good in Maths. If others can, why can’t you? Try and I know you’ll succeed. Prove others that you can do it.’ I did, and the 84 percent that I got in the Boards, I owe it completely to that woman named Jhara Roy. After passing out, my visits to her house became infrequent. But whenever we used to meet, she was very inquisitive of knowing how well her students are doing in their lives.

Ma’am wasn’t keeping well for quite some time. Before leaving Kolkata, I visited her and gave her the news of my admission in a film school and my shifting to Noida. She looked pale, washed out and skeletal. She could barely speak and had lost all hopes of recovery. Yet she smiled. She was happy — for me, for my success, for those countless students she had devoted her life to.

Today morning when I got the news, I wish I was there in Kolkata. I wanted to see her for one last time. I couldn’t. But then deep down in my heart, I felt proud. Proud to be a student of Mrs. J. Roy. Of all the teachers I’ve come across so far, she’s the one I’ve respected and loved the most, and will continue to do so forever. J. Roy Ma’am wasn’t just my Maths teacher, but a lot more than that. She taught me to be a better person — a better human being.

So this post comes as a tribute to the finest teacher I’ve ever seen. Thank you Ma’am for being there, for guiding me... for everything. I’ll forever cherish those memories I had in your class. Love you a lot. May your soul rest in peace.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Difficulty of Being a Fatso


I AM FAT. Huge. Elephantine.

No, this isn’t a tell-all memoir. Nor am I in a confess-all mood. I had a realisation. And it happened at the men’s casuals section of Pantaloons in South City mall.

I went to the store recently with my friends looking for t-shirts. As I was rummaging through the UMM collection, a store attendant came along.

‘What’s your size, sir?’ he asked, smiling.

‘Eh... XL,’ I whispered and took a quick look around. Thank God, no one heard me.

‘XL? Are you sure?’ he asked doubtfully, his gaze fixated on my ever-protruding paunch.

I threw him a scowl and stomped towards the trial room, trying hard to push in my tummy by chocking my breath.

I was wrong. And embarrassingly cocky. The t-shirt didn’t fit me. Nor the next half a dozens (yes, you read it correctly) that I tried out. Each of them got obstructed at my misshapen potbelly. I thought I wouldn’t grow larger than the ‘extra-large’ tag. But then I forgot that nothing is constant in the world. Not even my paunch. As I kept gorging on ice creams, chocolates, biriyani and KFC chicken buckets, my body kept on expanding in all directions turning me into a fat ki factory.

Coming out of the trial room I spotted the attendant again, still smiling — though his smile now looked more like a ‘see-I-told-you-it-will-not-fit’ smirk.

Finally I had to give up, and give in. I bought an XXL t-shirt, quite ashamed at my burgeoning size. My friends ‘advised’ me to have a look at the ALL section — specially designed clothes for oversized people (a sweetened way to say ‘you are fat, so stay away from the fashionable stuff’). They even consoled me by calling me a ‘size zero’ figure. ‘After all, you look like a perfect zero — round from all angles. Puro football!’ chuckled one of them.

Round is also a shape, I want to protest. But it’s not easy for my feeble voice to cut across the layers of fat treasured over the years and still be heard. I’ve been christened by my friends quite a few times — fatso, mota, haathi, paunch potato, ‘sumo wrestler in the making’, chhoto-khato monster and a host of other names.

Girls believe I personify nerdiness. I once went to a model-hunt competition (as a spectator, of course). Watching the hour-glass girls and trapezoid-shaped guys walk the ramp, I understood why I was such a turn-off for girls. Whenever I try to hit on a girl, it’s my peeping paunch that catches her attention first. After all, why settle for a Saurabh Shukla when you have lots of John Abrahams and Ranbir Kapoors roaming around?

My mom religiously believes I’m just a little ‘healthy’, and not ‘fat’ per se. ‘It shows you’re well fed and not like those anexoric hungry-looking guys on the streets,’ she argues. But then you know moms are always your worst critic. Desperate to lose weight, I immersed myself in such pain-inflicting activities as doing yoga regularly, following a strict diet chart, avoiding all sorts of carbs, and the most painful of all, saying ‘no’ to mutton biriyani, chocolates, pizzas and other junk foods. I even started hitting the gym. But all these sacrifices failed to reduce my waistline from 38 inches to 36. Whenever I go for shopping jeans, I get to listen to the same apologetic statement: ‘Sorry Sir, but this jeans doesn’t come in your size.’ Phew!

I know my image doesn’t fit in the mirror often. I know I incur my fellow passengers’ wrath whenever I share an auto seat and almost make them fall off. I know I might very soon score a century when it comes to my body weight. And I know I’ve by now crushed out all chances of getting a girlfriend. But I’ve also realised that I simply can’t stay away from all those things that make your weight shoot up faster than the country’s population. Being fat and being a foodie after all go hand in hand. So no matter how hard I try to achieve the ‘sexy hunk’ persona, I end up being the one I always am. Fatso.


Image courtesy: Anindya Kundu

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Love or Something Like It

ROMANTIC COMEDIES ARE infectious. They get to you, stay there and turn you into an addict. It has happened with me. And now I’ve been turned into a RCA (Rom-Com Addict, silly). Most people, however, have a disregard for the rom-com genre. It’s shallow, unrealistic, pretentious and celebrates an ‘oh-so-perfect’ notion of life and love, they argue (as if I care!). Given a choice, I would any day prefer a rom-com than sit through some high brow art house stuff and pretend to ‘love’ the movie in the end. Rom-coms are girly stuff. Boys love action and sci-fi flicks, some of my friends believe. But would they have said such a thing had they watched Pretty Woman or When Harry Met Sally, I wonder.

Of the innumerable rom-coms that I’ve watched, here’s a list of half a dozen of them. These lesser-known films figure nowhere in the ‘10 best romantic comedies of all time’ or ‘20 rom-coms to watch before you die’ lists. They aren’t box office bumpers nor are critically acclaimed. But then as Sajid Khan says ‘damn the critics’, I extend my unflinching loyalty towards these superb six. I would love to watch them over and over again.


Love Actually (Dir: Richard Curtis)

‘I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes, Love is all around me, and so the feeling grows’ — these opening lines of The Troggs’ classic hit quite sum up the mood and spirit of this uplifting love story. Set in London five weeks before Christmas, the spot on directorial debut of Curtis (he’s penned some of the most endearing romantic comedies — Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary) follows the interrelated stories of a dozen or so individuals as they embark on the journey called love. Billy Mack, Joe, David, Natalie, Juliet, Peter, Mark, Jamie, Aurélia, Harry, Karen, Sam, Joanna, Sarah, Karl, John, Judy — the way they fall in and out of love, sometimes with the right person, sometimes with the wrong one, makes this ‘love British style’ rom-com irresistibly enchanting. Curtis’s deft screenplay laced with humour, wit, warmth, romance and most importantly a pitch-perfect ensemble cast (Rowan ‘Mr. Bean’ Atkinson in his miniscule role gives a glimpse about the acting prowess of the other major players) will ‘actually’ make you fall in love with the film. So much so that you might end up having a ‘sneaky feeling’ that love actually is all around!

Runaway Bride (Dir: Garry Marshall)

A wedding-phobic small-town girl who has a habit of leaving her grooms-to-be at the altar, a fired-from-job big-city journalist who after writing an offensive column about her now seeks ‘vindication’ and the quaint little town of Hale, Maryland — that’s what Runaway Bride is all about, and much more. On first viewing, the bride-on-the-run couldn’t steal my heart the way a certain Pretty Woman did years ago. Even the Marshall-Roberts-Gere troika didn’t seem to work too well. But then love doesn’t always happen at first sight, isn’t it? The enticing storyline, the Julia-Richard star romance, a first rate supporting cast, the small-town atmosphere, tongue-in-cheek humour, witty one liners — all these make Runaway Bride an amusing tale of love and fun. Wow moment: when Julia ‘Maggie’ Roberts, while proposing to Richard ‘Ike’ Gere, gets down on her knees and says some of the most romantic lines I’ve ever heard, “I guarantee that we’ll have tough times. And I guarantee that at some point one or both of us will want to get out. But I also guarantee that if I don’t ask you to be mine, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. Because I know in my heart, you’re the only one for me.”

A Lot Like Love (Dir: Nigel Cole)

Ashton Kutcher is no Billy Crystal. Amanda Peet isn’t Meg Ryan either. Nor is A Lot Like Love anywhere close to the cult classic When Harry Met Sally. But there’s something captivating about this rom-com that keeps me glued to the TV screen whenever it’s shown on Zee Studio (and that’s quite often). Two ‘poles apart’ individuals — Oliver and Emily — keep on coming together and drifting away over the course of seven years as their relationship evolves from lust to friendship to love, until they finally realise that they are, indeed, made for each other. Ashton Kutcher is dumb as ever (he’s the perfect choice for such dumbass roles these days, since he doesn’t need to act). But it is Amanda Peet who overshadowed Kutcher all the way and even made his histrionics look lovable. She exudes such a rare charm every time she comes on screen that you can’t help but get smitten by her. Thanks to a witty script, refreshing direction and Amanda-magic, the film stops short of degenerating into a run-of-the-mill bland love story.

10 Items or Less (Dir: Brad Silberling)

This small independent film defies rom-com rules in many ways. It doesn’t preach ‘happily ever after’ nor does it have the saccharine sweetness and melodrama of love stories that at times make you feel diabetic. The lead players (Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega) are far from being conventional ‘teen heart-throb’ romantic leads, and the film doesn’t boast of magnificent locations or Hollywood glitz. 10 Items or Less isn’t a love story per se. There’s no hint of a traditional romantic affair between Freeman and Vega. But there are strong undercurrents of love, longing, friendship and passion running throughout. A movie star (Freeman), while researching for the role of a supermarket manager arrives at a small supermarket in a poor Latin neighbourhood. There he befriends the store cashier (Vega) and the initially mismatched pair ends up driving around Los Angeles. As the conversations open up, they begin to share and explore each other’s worlds. The refreshing narrative, witty humour, crackling chemistry between the leads (Vega’s Spanglish gives a déjà vu of Penélope Cruz) and smart direction make this film a rare cinematic experience.

Wimbledon (Dir: Richard Loncraine)

The critics called Wimbledon a ‘crowd-pleaser.’ Surely, it isn’t helluva great film. But what matters most is that the film has its heart at the right place. Its warmth, intimacy and good-heartedness strikes a chord with the viewers and you can’t help but like this mint-fresh sports rom-com. Washed-out tennis player Peter (Paul Bettany) whose rank has dropped to 119th in the world gets a wild card entry to his final Wimbledon tournament. There he falls for young, hot-shot American tennis pro Lizzie (Kirsten Dunst). As love grows between the two, Peter gets the inspiration and reason to win. But as Lizzie has given a new lease of life to Peter’s dying tennis career, he too must see her continue to win. Wimbledon has the charm, subtlety, wit and good humour of British rom-coms that rejuvenates the otherwise predictable storyline. Bettany’s good looks and ‘offbeat charm’ is a welcome departure from his negative acts (à la The Da Vinci Code) and establishes him as a lovable lead actor. Dunst is sparkling and makes the tennis matches all the more watchable.

Elizabethtown (Dir: Cameron Crowe)

Did Imtiaz Ali watch Elizabethtown while scripting Jab We Met? The similarities between the two movies can't be ignored. Shoe designer Drew (Orlando Bloom), fired from his job and dumped by his girlfriend, decides to commit suicide, when he is interrupted by a phone call informing him of the death of his father. So he postpones his suicide plan and leaves for Elizabethtown to bring back his father’s body. On the flight he meets a talkative, warm hearted flight attendant Claire (Kirsten Dunst) who changes his perspective of life, relationships and love (ring any bells?) and helps him discover the possibilities of his own destiny. Now a completely transformed person, Drew embarks on a journey in search of the girl who had brought his life back on track. Bloom gives an amazingly restrained performance, balancing between pensiveness and his desire to let go. Dunst is the ‘zing’ factor. She brightens up the screen every time she comes in and the magic lingers even after she’s off the screen. The road trip that Bloom sets out in the end elevates this bittersweet romantic comedy-cum-celebration of life-cum-road movie into something more poignant. And we realize, as the makers say, the best things in life happen when you least expect them.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wedding Blues

MARRIAGE AND I share a pernicious relationship, thanks to the numerous weddings I’ve been a part of all these years. (Before you start giving those ‘what-the-crap-this-guy-is-talking-about’ looks, let me clarify I’m only talking about attending marriage ceremonies, not actually getting married.) When I was young I used to be tagged along with my family to whichever wedding ceremony they attended, and everyone — quite expectedly — gave an air of insouciance to my repeated protest against accompanying them. Why would I go to somewhere I don’t know anyone, not even the bride or groom? It feels so awkward, I used to argue. But all I got in return were a few ‘you-are-a-kid-so-you-shouldn’t-have-any-say-in-this’ looks from everyone around forcing me to shut up.

So I attended the shaadis, over the years. And the saga still continues. In fact, the relations are so distant at times that I’ve to memorise them well in advance. Otherwise how do I explain others that I’m attending the ceremony of my aunt’s cousin’s brother-in-law’s daughter’s marriage? Or, for that matter, my father’s colleague’s elder brother’s son’s bou-bhaat. Once there I retreat to a lonesome corner, stuffing my mouth with some really awful vegetable — and occasionally chicken — pakoras (in order to prevent myself from getting bored) and hiding away from my over-enthusiastic (and over-grinning) relatives and acquaintances. But as luck would have it, they invariably spot me out and thereafter triggers a volley of pissing-off questions — what are you doing these days, why don’t you come to our place nowadays... blah, blah, blah... why are you standing alone here, why did you leave your job all of a sudden. Phew!

More often than not I manage to escape with a disinterested toothy grin, desperately waiting for the dinner to start. However the freakiest moments are those when some super-emotional aunty tugs my cheeks hard exclaiming, ‘O maa, koto boro hoye gechhis re tui!’ How cheeky!

Marriage ceremonies are queer. There’s a distinct air of superficiality running through them. Most of the biye bari that I’ve attended, all I could find under the guise of ‘heavenly bliss’ and merrymaking were pomp and splendour, ‘I-spent-more-money-than-you’-type grandeur, unabashed display of wealth, show off, tall talks, fake smiles, phoney conversations, sugar-coated bitching, flashy sarees and flashier jewellery.

However, marriage ceremonies can be fun as well. Apart from the food, I keep myself entertained by eavesdropping on the sensational gossip... err, conversations (‘gossip is a bad word — people ‘converse’, they never ‘gossip’) floating around. Now, for this write-up I did a little research (eavesdropping, to be precise) and came up with the following conversations. Though not letter-perfect, but you’ll surely get a glimpse of what everyone talks about at weddings.

Conversation One

Women, with their ‘hey-I-know-it-better-than-you’ attitude, are usually preoccupied with what seems to be making a detailed and thorough critical appraisal (they call it ‘fair comment’) of a number of earth-shattering issues — how tacky the bride’s saree looks, whether her jewellery is actually gold or mere gold-plated, is the groom really a mamma’s boy or just appears to be so or, why the bride’s mother didn’t personally come to welcome them.

‘Look at the bride’s saree. Isshhh... shocking red! Who wears that colour of Benarasi these days? How hideous!’

‘Absolutely. And have you seen her make-up? Looks like she’s applied pots of powder on her face! Must have done it at home. Couldn’t she even go to a parlour?’

‘Are all those jewels pure gold? The girl’s father has taken loan for the wedding. How come they can afford such extravagance?’

‘Arrey, bor ta ke dekh. I’ve heard he works in IBM. But see, how kyabla he looks!’

‘Hmm... and his mom is just the opposite. What a kharoos lady she is!’

‘Then it’s good, na? That girl is such a snob... doesn’t talk to anyone properly in the colony. You know, she even rejected Dolly boudi’s son. Ebar bujhbe moja.’

Conversation Two

Among the men, on the other hand, the subject of discussion generally pendulates between the present socio-political situation of the country and bragging about their sons and daughters, where the latter takes precedence. Occasionally they also throw sneer at others in a manifestation of ‘look-at-me-I-am-so-rich’ syndrome.

‘What’s your son doing now, Ghosh babu?’

‘He’s studying Mass Communication. Journalist hobe bolchhe.’

‘Tai naki? My elder son, Dipu, is in States now. Works in an MNC there... earns more than a lakh every month!’

‘Oh that’s very...’

‘And the younger, Riju, is studying Engineering in Bangalore. He’s thinking about doing MBA like his Dada after passing out... wants to shift abroad, actually.’

‘I think...’

‘But I didn’t object. Arrey, why should I? They’re grown ups now. And in any case, Engineering and MBA chhara aar achhe ta ki? All other courses are just a waste of time.’

Silence.

‘And if you talk of settling abroad, what’s wrong in it? Kolkata shohorer aar kissu hobe na moshai! It’s a dying city. Look at the climate. Ki gorom! Dipu doesn’t want to come here at all. You know, he can’t adjust to this heat and pollution.’

Silence. Silence.

‘Oh, by the way, Dipu’s getting married in June. We’re throwing a party at ITC Sonar. And it will be far more lavish than this wedding, I promise you! Eta to kichhui na.’

Conversation Three

Food is something I absolutely die for, and when it comes to ‘wedding reception food’, that’s a distinct cuisine altogether. However, it is also at weddings that you come across a rare and priceless breed of ‘food critic’ who can give the professionals a run for their money. Despite the fact that they stuff their plates with every item possible like it’s their last meal on this planet, these food critics have the miraculous ability to identify even the smallest flaw in cooking. Sample this.

‘The food was good. But the mutton was too spicy. Tai na?’

‘Yeah, and a bit chewy as well.’

‘The chingri malaikari was okay, although the prawns weren’t fresh. They stank.’

‘Chingri r kothay pelam? The waiters didn’t offer it twice.’

‘And the fish fry? It was so cold I had to tell them to heat it up before serving.’

‘I wanted to taste the paneer makhani. But they refused to serve me, saying it was only for vegetarians and I’ve already eaten non-veg items. Odbhut!’

Conversation Four

This one is a bonus item — a conversation between the over-zealous video recording guy and the groom.

‘Arrey Dada, stop! Don’t put the sindoor on boudi now.’

‘Why? What happened?’

‘Give us a good pose na! Hold your hand over the bride’s forehead... yeah, that’s good. Keep it like that! Okay... now do it.’

‘Thank God!’

‘No, no... don’t look at her. Look at me. I mean... towards the camera. Dada, now give a smile to boudi. No... don’t tilt your head! Sit straight. Yeah... perfect!’



I know I might be guillotined for saying this, but here’s the golden rule: next time you’re in a biye bari, keep your ears to the ground and eyes in the back of your head. You’ll find amusement galore. Hail marriage.


Image courtesy: Sourish Mitra

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Horrifying Resolution

THIS NEW YEAR I made a resolution. It wasn’t any of those just-like-that promises I make in January every year, invariably botching them up by the end of the month. No ‘will exercise regularly’, ‘will stop eating carbs’, ‘will read more books and watch less porn’ vows this year, I thought. It was time to do something hatke.

I’ll watch a lot of horror films, I pledged (I can see that smirk on your face, but I’d rather ignore it) after much musing. For a movie buff like me this was a resolution I’d love to abide by throughout the year. And what proved to be the icing on the cake was the phrase ‘horror films’. Watching horror flicks in a dark empty room, getting goose bumps even at the slightest squeak of the door — voilà!

So I watched. Films after films — ranging from terrific to terrible. Some scared the hell out of me, others way too bland. Of them, here’s a quick look at the frightening five.


The Orphanage (Dir: Juan Antonio Bayona / Spanish)

Guillermo Del Toro opened the peephole, but it was Bayona who sucked me into the world of Spanish horror cinema, thanks to his spine-chilling horror thriller. The story revolves around Laura (Belén Rueda) who returns to her childhood home — an orphanage — with the plan of renovating the now-dilapidated house into a home for disabled children. But reaching there her son Simón starts making imaginary friends. Things turn worse when Simón mysteriously disappears one day. Determined to bring her son back, Laura now enters her son’s eerie world, unravelling haunting secrets of the past. No ghastly monsters, no digital tricks, the film convincingly creates a sinister atmosphere without descending to cheap horror. Watch out for the pre-climax scene where Laura initiates a game she used to play in her childhood in order to contact the ghost children. It’s bloody scary! The Orphanage is what a critic has rightly said, ‘a movie about children made very much for adults.’

The Others (Dir: Alejandro Amenábar / English)

A horror masterpiece, The Others treads a rather difficult path between supernatural and psychological. Living in a darkened old country mansion with her two photosensitive children, Grace (Nicole Kidman) waits for her husband to return from war. Everything seems peaceful, until she hires three mysterious servants at the house. Soon strange events start occurring and Grace becomes convinced that her home is haunted. Grace begins to wonder if there’s something much more in the house that’s beyond the realm of human understanding. Relying entirely on psychological horror, the film gets creepier as it goes along and finally comes to what I call ‘the baap of twist-ending’ climax. It completely takes you by surprise, making you question who to believe and who to fear. Kudos to Amenábar for dissolving the boundaries between real and surreal.

A Tale of Two Sisters (Dir: Kim Ji-woon / Korean)

Asian horror films have a distinct charm of their own, often more horrifying than their western counterparts. From the very first frame they create a sense of dread and slowly build up tension, thereby luring the viewer into their dark and gruesome world. There’s always the fear of evil lurking behind, making its ‘presence’ felt even in the movement of the curtains, which is psychologically more disturbing, sinister and hair-raising than the western zombies and monsters. A Tale of Two Sisters is one such gem. Su-Mi, getting released from a mental institution, returns home with her timid sister Su-Yeong to stay with their emotionally-absent father and cruel stepmother. But once there, terrifying events start happening in the house. The plot is a complex one, but doesn’t get tedious even once, thanks to the taut screenplay. The riveting climax where the actual ‘monster’ is revealed comes across as a jolt, making you gasp for breath.

Audition (Dir: Takashi Miike / Japanese)

What if your dream date turns out to be your worst nightmare? Watch Audition and I bet you’ll give up dating altogether! Lonely widower Aoyama, encouraged by his son and a producer-friend, decides to hold a fake audition for a non-existent film in order to find himself a bride. He becomes fascinated by a sweet, charming young woman Asami who seems to be the perfect choice. But as Aoyama delves deeper into Asami’s world, we discover that there’s just something not right about his ‘dream girl’. Notorious for his depictions of graphic violence, Miike starts building up the tension right from the beginning, culminating in a blood-curdling finale that’s one of the scariest climaxes I’ve ever seen. He successfully shatters the stereotypical notion that horror films must contain supernatural elements. Like many other Asian Horrors, this one too explores the psychological facet of horror. A warning for those who haven’t watched Audition yet: if you are a faint-hearted, watch the film at your own risk. You’re sure to get goose bumps when you hear Asami saying, ‘Kiri, kiri, kiri, kiri, kiri...’

Dark Water (Dir: Walter Salles / English)

I was disappointed with Dark Water initially. The film, almost devoid of any ‘close-your-eyes-in-fear-and-scream’ moment, scored pretty low on my scare-meter. It just wasn’t that spooky. But on second thoughts I realised Dark Water goes much beyond than just a ‘horror film’ in the traditional sense of the term. It’s actually more of a drama set in a haunted house. Salles stresses as much on the fear, anguish and paranoia of the characters as he does on the horror quotient. Separated from her husband, Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) move into a rundown apartment with her daughter Cecilia. Soon after, mysterious occurrences start taking place. There’s a constant drip of dark water from the ceiling of her daughter’s bedroom. There are noises coming from the apartment above hers, although it appears to be vacant. Cecilia makes an imaginary friend called Natasha. As Dahlia decides to investigate further dark secrets from the past are unravelled. Laced with brilliant performance by Connelly, the film turns out to be — as critics say — a ghost story with an emotionally haunting echo.