May 5, 2013
I call my generation of Indians as the "Doordarshan generation", because of the shared monoculture embodied by the national broadcaster and the overwhelming nostalgia for the DDiot box. "Tendulkar generation" may be another good candidate: we came into sporting consciousness by surfing the after-wave of the '83 Cup victory and helped make cricket a single-minded national obsession.
In the centre was "Sachiiin, Sachin". He was the only child prodigy we could tolerate and not feel envious of. He became a solitary and tragic soap operatic figure - Fate, doubtlessly clad in rich georgettes and heavy makeup, constantly conspired to thwart his success and tried his sincerity and talent in every episode. Like our moms would with Tulsi and her ilk, we stood by him, knowing Sachineva Jayate. There were those who doubted him, and fought from the shoulders of Sourav or Rahul, but we knew we'd win in the end.
And look who is still padding up. The end has come and gone.
My relationship with sport has changed dramatically. It may be a dreaded sign of becoming a grown-up or an inevitable cooling off. The first signs came when I realised I had accumulated very few stories of watching sport from recent times. No more I-sat-up-and-watched or did-you-also-notice or I-still-can't-believe-it. The few stories that stuck featured Federer, Nadal, and Messi. Where at one point, I had shelves full of daring cricket stories, now I had the woodwork being gnawed away by the termites of apathy.
Like a Nick Hornby character, I could write an autobiographical account purely through the lens of Indian cricket and Tendulkar. The Abdul Qadir over: I was at a friend's place, watching my friend's father howling in delight over this little fella smacking the world's best leggie. Aamir Sohail's wicket to turn around the '92 WC match: at home, during exams, just after a immensely annoying but short power-cut. '93 Hero Cup Semi-Final: at cousin's place the day after father was admitted to hospital with malaria. The Pakistan Test at Chennai: on stage at a quiz final, getting score updates from the only person on stage with both a pager and a complete lack of interest in sport.
And so on and so forth through the nineties and the noughties and what-do-they-call-this-decades, proving wrong uncles who thought India couldn't chase big scores, proving friends right through big-match failures, collapsed in prayer and stuck in superstitious chairs, and choosing to stay away from debates of being "overrated". And a World Cup win, and a 4th innings chase, and some other tidbits. (But never a direct hit: he always sucked at throwing down the stumps to run someone out.)
We knew that one day it would happen: Sachin would retire. This wasn't a Superman comic or a Nancy Drew book or a myth about a Chiranjeev. Things came to an end. And then there was personal business. In these enlightened times where everyone sings solemn paeans to productivity, it was hard to ignore the time being spent in watching your team lose. Or win. It was hard to tell the difference any more. So I knew I would have to move on too. Perhaps, somewhat like with friends from fifth standard, I could promise to 'keep in touch'. But the channel doesn't show Sportscenter anymore and the subcription to Sportstar lapsed two years ago.
So how would I feel? What would I miss? What would I do, post-retirement? These questions circled around me, setting up me up for a soft dismissal that I would weep over.
The Master Blaster to the rescue. I don't know how, but I've been led to a point where I just couldn't care. The fan-muscles had atrophied, but with overuse. No debate would goad me into a response; no allegation would rile me; no snigger would evoke an instinctive reaction. Yes, Tendulkar is still around, far beyond what anyone would have expected a decade ago. He's overseen my transition from naive and rabid supporter to oxymoronic objective fan looking for beauty in sport to a devil-may-care-but-I-don't bystander. This is mostly true of cricket; since my involvement with other sports was relatively skin-deep, they have escaped this fierce U-turn.
100 hundreds, or 24 years not out, or 30k+ runs - the numbers are so big that they are insignificant. Somewhat like the length of the orbit of Jupiter. It makes utterly no difference to my life - and if he hadn't been around for so long, I would not have realised that.
This makes my cricket retirement utterly bearable, and I have, like with many things in life, Sachin Tendulkar to thank for it.
* Some of my old Tendulkar posts
* A truly illuminating article by Jonathan Wilson on the value of sport to our lives.
Apr 23, 2013
It does not, unlike symmetric faces and rounded hips, take its cue from evolutionary benefits. Nor does it obey any trends of the week imported from Milan or Cannes. These oranges and lemons can be had free, cheaper than a penny. It's not special enough for us to get up each day or escape the workday to admire the sight out of our windows (agreed, it has to stand on its heels to be seen beyond skyscrapers and gets overshadowed by the false tinkle of the neon lights). But, once in a faintly blue moon, when you do get a glimpse of it, it's bigger than you, and you're a part of it.
How lucky, therefore, that we should live on a planet whose sun which is so mad about it that it not only revolves around us like a smitten suitor, but also puts out such a spectacular show at no charge, twice a day, on an accessible screen? That the colours are so vivid, just to suit our taste? Or is this too anthropocentric a conclusion? Did we find it boring at first ("I'm so tired of all this crimson and scarlet and yellow. But it does remind me of last night's supper")? Did we, as one of P.G.Wodehouse's poets did, make comparisons to roast beef?
Would we like a new skin, a different theme, a fresh coat? Perhaps madame would like to see something in purple? Then in "baingani", perhaps? We have a new refraction range, exclusive, just came in yesterday.
The same goes for the greens in the trees, the oranges of the fall, the yellows of the mustard, the purples of the orchids. Just why we should find them so pretty, so sensuous, so soothing, is a mystery. But they've kept poets, artists, and film-makers in business, and counterpoint our boring, whitewashed, concrete lives.
Like a little bit of sunshine on a dull marble tile.
Nov 14, 2012
1. "Masoom" (R.D.Burman)
2. "Kitaab" (R.D.Burman)
3. "Makdee" (Vishal Bhardwaj)
4. "The Blue Umbrella" (Vishal Bhardwaj)
5. "The Jungle Book" (Vishal Bhardwaj)
Nov 2, 2012
It is the Indian quizzer's ultimate Hindi movie. If you didn't know what a "black comedy" is all about, watch Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron. It is comedy with depth and purpose that continues to stand quietly but unforgettably on a pedestal of its own.
A mark of any great film is if one can watch it repeatedly and keep discovering nuances in the story and performances: you can do this with "Jaane...". The reason for this "repeat-vasool" quality is the generously sprinkled collection of in-jokes, graceful lampooning of individuals and institutions, no-holds barred satirical references and an irreverent yet healthy disregard for sacred cows. Indian quizzers have long cut their teeth at movie trivia with "Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron". From classics like What are the screen names of Naseeruddin Shah & Ravi Baswani in the film?" (A: Vinod Chopra & Sudhir Mishra, from the names of director Kundan Shah's friends assisting him in the movie), Which personalities inspired the characters of the scandal-sheet editor Shobha Sen and the cake-eating and apparently gutter-loving Commissioner D'Mello (A: Shobha De and Julio Ribeiro (a joke on his virulent anti-corruption stance) respectively) to the wildly obscure but hilarious self-referential From whom have the photographers taken a loan? (A: a man named Kundan Shah). I can go on and on.
This profusion of trivia doesn't trivialise the film: on the other hand, it underscores the wit and wisdom in the screenplay. If you were so inclined, a viewing of this (may I now start saying "cult"?) movie could provide you with hajaar allegories to ponder over. As a student of film history, you might consider another aspect: an attempt by another fresh batch of graduates of the FTII along with other like-minded friends to make a film according to their sensibilities, also providing a crucible from which their names emerged radiant; any film now beginning with the credits reading Kundan Shah, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Sudhir Mishra, Naseeruddin Shah, Renu Saluja, Binod Pradhan, Satish Kaushik, Pankaj Kapur, Om Puri, Satish Shah, Neena Gupta (and a near miss from Anupam Kher) would be considered pretty top-notch. A sort of schoolboy dream-team, it seems today.
The story is good-meets-evil, innocence-meets-cynicism. Photographers Vinod and Sudhir want to make a living, no one will let them be. Sucked into exposing corruption, they're engulfed with it and only have the body of the man-in-the-middle D'Mello (would it be fair to call Satish Shah's role "deadpan" ?) to show for it. A wonderfully written climax involving a staging of the Mahabharata (fittingly the only Indian epic that embraced realpolitik as a way of life) provides the final nail in the coffin: the common man pays for his optimism again. Kundan Shah excelled at the genre of tragicomedy: his subsequent successes on television revealed his flair for understanding what life in the middle of the sandwich was all about, and why Satya does not always lead to Jayam.
Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron was a singular spark, in retrospect. Its makers had varied kinds of success, some succumbing to the other lunacies of commercial art while some were caught on the fence. Why "Jaane..." works for me is because it is always consistent to its levels of illogic. The phone scene with Albert Pinto (another delightful self-reference with Naseeruddin Shah), the cake-throwing sequence, the round-figure bribes, Om Puri (taking off on his father's Punjabi accent) towing the coffin-on-wheels and the incredible sight of a de-moustached Satish Shah in a sari swaying around on stage are just a small sample of one of the most creative efforts ever on Indian cinema. Also commendable are the slices from reality, with the reference to the collapse of the Byculla Bridge and A.R.Antulay's troubles. Sure, this NFDC-financed effort trips only in the production values, but won its dues from the critics, picking up National Awards. But I cannot help feel a tinge of pathos for the fact that hardly anyone in Indian cinema dared follow this trendsetter, including the makers themselves. But humming the anthem of Hum Honge Kaamyaab Ek Din, in the spirit of it all, if I may say so : Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron.
Oct 26, 2012
We of the eighties, the Doordarshan Generation, often talk of how good television was during the times of DD. While garden-variety nostalgia is probably to blame for most of it, when it comes to comedy, we do have a strong case. And leading the charge, your honour, would be "Flop Show". Bhatti's creation was preceded by "Ulta Pulta", five-odd minute pieces in DD's morning show that I would often catch while getting ready for school. I can't remember a single one of them now, but I do remember an awakening to the idea of satire, of which, sadly, mainstream TV and films in India have produced very little. Even "Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro" was a fortuitous coming together of youthful insouciance ending in noir and comedy, but "Flop Show", a worthy expansion of the promise of "Ulta Pulta", was a planned and sunny "oye chal yaar" saunter through middle class angst. Underlined by the weekly pastiche of Hindi film songs that was a high point in TV creativity. If you consider that DD, that same media org that often filled entire 20-minute news bulletins with speeches of Rajiv Gandhi wanting to make bananas, has greenlit satire of the highest order that pulled down the pants of most things smug, you do have to give its officers credit.
Of course, "Flop Show" never took potshots at real people or pointed fingers at the highest of places. Nor did Bhatti really touch the high notes of national popular attention again. But he did pursue his talent, through films and notably surfacing during elections to make merry at the expense of politicians. But this part of India had changed: now humour was an excuse to get offended and buy free outrage-time, or just make Archana Puran Singh guffaw - a task achieved even when she watches paint dry. Whatever little had been achieved during the few years of comic liberation had been ceded to buffoonery of the Cyrus Broacha variety, to plagiarised stand-up of the Shekhar Suman style, or to a laughter track stuck in an infinite loop. Note milord, "Flop Show" never needed a laughter track.
You can draw neat parallels in this demise of purposeful and intelligent satire with the withering away of R.K. Laxman, or indeed even in Bhatti's own career. A few months ago, I noticed that he was on Twitter (where a semblance of satire - or at least attempted satire - has gone to live) and still had the occasional touch. Evidence:
"A chair thrown at Nitish Kumar...what else a politician wants?"
"#HappyBdayNamo ..Astrologers say nxt PM again will be bearded.Modi,Nitish,MMS already have.Rahul G's beard will grow with d worries"
People have started using diesel & petrol as body perfume to show off.
Sachin Tendulkar bowled thrice in a row...Members of parliament are not performing much anywhere
One of "Flop Show"'s best episodes was its last one, where it memorably poked fun at itself. Bhatti often did that to himself, and earned a lot of appreciation in the process. One can only attribute his untimely demise to a tendency, also followed by his old comrade Vivek Shauq (who passed away last year), of keeping a meeting appointment too early. Hopefully the gods, who will undoubtedly be the butt of a few jokes now, did him the honour of greeting him, despite this inconvenience.
In his creations, Jaspal Bhatti would be credited with "Misdirection". This was a fitting description, given that the people he poked fun of think of themselves as providing "direction" to society. It was and is an "Ulta Pulta" world, and very few Indians threw a spotlight on it like Jaspal Bhatti.