Kaffeeklatsch

I remember the days
bitter aftertaste of coffee
the gemutlichkeit:
conversations, debates,
intellectual wanking
poseurs we all were Continue reading

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Why I Left Indira (Again)!

The music playing on FM radio, as I drove down Indira’s flat, was “Desi Girl” (literally a song about native girl, and how you won’t find anyone like my native girl, anywhere in the world).

The idea that the nakharas of desi girls are unparalleled in the world is highly suspect. No I wasn’t going back to native charms, I was leaving Uma to go back to Indira who had newly acquired a FB profile, where she was posting her photos in the latest western clothes, updates about her visits to spas, and hair stylists, snaps of pastas and enchiladas she was cooking at home; Indira whose father owned a, now prospering, packaged foods business; and all this with an additional promise of freedom from unmitigated feminism of the likes of Uma.

Continue reading

Ethics of Drinking

There are some people who’ll say that ‘ethics of drinking’ is an oxymoron of sorts, while others will say, screw ethics, drink, have fun. But over the years, I’ve burned some grey matter over this.

When I was too young to drink, I had taken on a, for that age typical, position that drinking is a bad thing, and I will NEVER drink. The NEVER lasted for a couple of years, by when I was not too young to drink anymore. I let go my former diktat to myself. I started with the stronger brew: the iconic Old Monk rum. Then, for a while, scoffing at beers, and insisting that wines are a snobbish waste of money, I stuck to rum, despite inability of my system to really cope with it. Over the years I had puked in the roadside gutter, I had a new year’s first day completely wiped off the calender due to extreme bouts of vomiting, and so on. Finally, I embraced beer, another U-Turn, gradually started loving it. Continue reading

Edge Question and Random Ruminations

How is the internet changing the way you think?

That’s the question John Brockman, the editor of Edge.org has asked “prominent science, tech, and media personalities”. Needless to say I’m not one of them. But that doesn’t stop me from ruminating on it, does it? And so I am, or was, ruminating when for some curious reason, I remembered a quote I had read somewhere. Okay let me google and get the details. Darn, google has become the notebook that we all used to keep for reference. But if you could look up anything at the click of a few keys, why bother keeping a notebook, which you have to search (in the physical sense of the word) in the first place, and then painfully search inside it? But I digress (incidentally, this is the last sentences of many of my first paras, but I digress …) Continue reading

Sports and Indian-ness

Every once in a while some blogger asks other bloggers to comment on “Who is the real Indian”. Misplaced though the question is, in that it betrays too much of quasi-Freudian complex (isn’t every complex Freudian, or is it not that simple?) — of either varieties — what is most surprising about it is the lack of any convincing answers. I suspect it is because of this: people don’t know where to look for the answers. Good news is: I do, and soon, you will too.

Here, then, is the short answer: an Indian is a person who follows cricket, and no other game. Continue reading

No Smoking – Review and more

I wanted to catch No Smoking in the theaters, but I’m a lazy guy. By the time I actually checked out the papers for current movies, it was off the screens. Then last week I went to the DVD store to check out if Jhonny Gaddar’s DVD was out. It was, so just on an impulse I asked if No Smoking is out, and it was too. I guess, once it was out of theaters in a week or two, I should have expected that.

I haven’t watched Black Friday yet. I guess that was a good thing, because when I watched No Smoking, I had no expectations whatsoever of Anurag Kashyap. Sure a lot of people had praised Black Friday, but I tend to keep my mind clean of such praise/scathing. To the extent possible, that is.

Yesterday, finally, I picked up No Smoking DVD. I was alone at home, with nothing better to do (too tired to read, even), and decided to pick up the movie. No Smoking pulled me in right in the first few scenes. And two hours later, I was a satisfied man.

A few days back, I had checked out Kashyap’s post on PFC, and Khalid Mohamed’s review, and some more posts on PFC, castigating Khalid. I ended up satirizing the whole episode on my other blog, KandaBatata. Today, I realize Anurag’s angst, and angst of all those at PFC, who have been supporting him.

I can understand people not ‘getting‘ the movie. I can even understand reviewers not getting the movie. What I cannot understand is the thrashing, the venomous, spiteful dismissal of a work that is as audacious and undertaking as any in the recent past. I cannot think of anything that comes even close.

No, No Smoking isn’t the perfect movie. But then, which movie is perfect? What No Smoking is, is a very intelligent movie. Indulgent, but engrossing. It makes you think. While leafing through some online reviews of the movie, I caught names like Matrix, Memento. But Matrix is a very simple action movie with a little bit of metaphysical expropriation from some Vedic concepts (or its parallels), and a little bit of science fiction thrown in to complete a package. And Memento just had a clever twist in a very normal story played backwards. The film that comes to my mind (and some bloggers have mentioned Lynch, too), is David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. Incidentally that film is on my top ten list. It’s brilliantly conceived, and there are so many layers, so many interpretations, so many meanings, and yet it’s not random. Watch it intently, and you’ll get it. Get enough of it, anyway, to make sense. And you’ll watch it again, and again, to get it all.

No Smoking, in contrast seems to have a central meaning that’s much more obvious. Sure, there will be many interpretations, but Anurag has left enough clues to drive home what he intended (and then has even spilled the beans in his posts). I cannot claim to have understood the whole movie. It’s definitely a movie to be watched couple of times if not more, going back and forth. Still, it wasn’t that hard to get. Not even for me who hasn’t watched much of European on independent cinema, or Korean or whatever cinema for that matter; who isn’t much versed in the vocabulary of film-making; who isn’t much of an avid movie-watcher (give me a book anyday). And that’s why I cannot really get the likes of Khalid Mohamad pissing all over the pages, and taking pleasure, like a kid taking pleasure in dismantling a meticulously created house of cards.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for criticism. But how many films even try to go where Kashyap has gone? Surely, in an industry where people make meaningless films day in day out, one, even if misplaced attempt (in his evaluation), isn’t going to harm the industry as a whole, or the sanity of the viewers, even? Why this vehemence:

“Too in-depth man, too in-depth, puffing, driving, the sex act, the sex act, fingers being chopped. Kcuf, kcuf.. what’s happening out here? You can’t make out, you don’t care, and you’re fed up of the affectations, the self-indulgence, and the fact that you even bothered to see this Dhumrapan Nishedh bandhi which tells you about Socrates, Plato and then goes Do be Do. I swear on Sinatra’s head. Hey, Kashy actually hears retro-music and wants us to know. Niiice.”

This is a review?

Or:

“Ayesha Takia has to stop looking plump.”

WTF? I mean WTF! This is seriously the nadir of mainstream media. This is rotten reviewing (and the fact that it gets through!). This is personal vendetta (and the fact that it gets through). This is absolute misuse of the vantage point (and the fact…). I mean I was never a fan of Khalid Mohamed, but there is harmless idiocy, and there is spite. Make no mistake about it, this isn’t idiocy.

Then there are bloggers who tout like experts calling this film demented and what not! Raised over a spoon-fed pulp of overcooked apple (with strawberry syrup as topping), it’s not totally surprising that these self-proclaimed media-readers will side with the establishment. After all that’s where they want to go, for all the talk of blogging as alternative media. It’s okay not to understand, but please for god’s sake don’t nip in bud experimental cinema that’s ahead of its time, at least in Indian context, just because you don’t understand it.

A prominent blogger in the Indian blah-go-sphere has this to say about No Smoking:

“… yes, it’s a “hatke” film but the problem here is that it is so “hatke” that audience (if any left) ka dimaag satak jayega..” (No Smoking – Injurious to Head)

So it’s okay to be hatke, but just enough hatke for every lazy layperson can understand it while munching on his/her caramel flavored popcorn. Will this all-too-powerful audience ever move a head muscle? Or are they going to be perennially happy watching ‘butts’ and supremely original stories love stories?

And like KM, there is the unnecessary jibe at Takia’s figure:

“Ayesha Takia – Someone please enroll her at the nearest gym”

WTF? I mean, WTF? Yes, I’d love to see her shed a few kilos, but surely she isn’t in this line for her figure. Knowing her potential, post Dor, this has been an easy role for her, but what’s utterly lost on most reviewers is the deliberate “unreal” acting in her role as the secretary. Enough, I’m not going to explain the movie.

No Smoking is a big milestone for Indian cinema, because it has broken the “start-middle-end” monopoly of our scripts. Sure, “Waisa Bhi Hota Hai – Part II” tried similar things, but it didn’t have half the thematic brilliance of No Smoking. It doesn’t make the audience think, beyond maybe exercising a few muscles trying to keep the different threads in mind, but not where it counts: it doesn’t make the viewer think about the larger issues. Not since the demise of the so called parallel cinema have we seen anything close to this. It’s the first metaphorical cinema in a long long time. Least we could do, is be sympathetic to it. For all the emergence of “new cinema”, if people don’t understand this movie, the future is bleak.

Ironically, Anurag Kashyap, who said in one of his blogs that “to be Howard Roark you have to first kill your family”, has made an apocalyptic film, about himself! I just hope, that he’ll have enough perseverance to swallow this bitter pill and move on. Because, if he trusts himself, I think one of these days, we’ll get one of the finest films ever made on Indian screen from this man (the only other contender, albeit strong one, on resume, is Vishal Bharadwaj). I just hope, he’ll survive till then. I’m even ready to pray to a God I don’t believe in. Anurag, hang in there. We need you.


Plot-Theme integration: 4/5
Direction: 4.5/5
Music: 5/5 (Vishal, you rock!)
Acting: 4/5 (John Abraham: 4/5, whatever anyone says)
Vision: 5/5
Dialogs: 4.5/5
Entertainment: 5/5 (intelligent entertainment, that is)
On the whole: 4/5Some reviews that I found useful:

Watch it, and judge for yourself. Don’t let the media-savants tell you what’s Good cinema and what’s not. At most you’ll blow up 80 bucks and two hours.


Spoilers and random thoughts ahead (will add to this space):On PFC, someone asked: “For eg. How does the ” eunuch throwing coins at John as he awaits a signal” fit in ?”It’s very interesting, when K says he hasn’t got change, the eunuch says he has it and throws it at him saying “kaam aayega”. In the end, K never uses that change (remember 1 rupee cash payment he never did?). Is the change common sense/symbol for conformism? Is the change surrender of the ego? Afterall K never pays a single penny by his volition. He never “chooses” to leave smoking, he just thinks about it. Those who have paid the “bills”, or the change, are exempt from the final wash (out). Of course, that’s my interpretation, but that’s the beauty of this film.

Ashen Lives

“What happened?”, Shikha asked, as I pushed her away, and switched on the light.

“Nothing”, I said, lighting up a cigarette. “I remembered I had to call up someone”.

“Asshole”, she snapped. “You’re not leaving me like this”

“It will take a few minutes. Logistical issues”

“And they can’t wait?”

“Not really. But I’m finding it hard to concentrate here”

“You gotta be kidding me”, she said, sitting up. Then snatching the cigarette from my hand, she crumpled it into the ash-tray.

“How many times do I have to tell you not to smoke inside the bedroom. Leave one fucking room clean, will you?”

I got up, and picked up the cigarette packet. It was empty. I cursed her under my breath, as I walked into the hall. I dialed Riddhi’s number. It was late, but then Riddhi didn’t have a life outside work. A prospective customer wanted me to fly to Delhi the next day for a presentation to the board. For a couple of days I had sat on it, and basically done nothing. But then I thought of Riddhi, and the idea of taking her along came to me. That would solve the problem of boredom, and the presentation. There was one problem, though. I had not told her yet that she was to travel with me in less than twenty-four hours. And also, there was the question of getting the presentation tweaked for the client. Tomorrow, neither of us would get much time to work on it. I was sure she would take care of it in the night.

*

The call went as expected. Riddhi was overjoyed at the opportunity, although she did make efforts to not sound very excited. She promised to take care of the presentation.

That done, I slumped into the couch and switched on the TV. Some stupid Dance competition was on. Shikha loves to watch such shows. Maybe that’s not true, but she watches them anyways. I have never figured out how she can waste her time on things like that. There was a time, not so long ago, when we used to be an active part of a film-club. We watched plays, live concerts, even art-exhibitions together. The tickets seemed exorbitant, especially in those early days of struggle, and time was even more precious. But we used to manage. It all changed when I got promoted at a pace we both hadn’t bargained for. Shikha was still struggling with part-time jobs. She hated spending time at home, but nothing was working out for her.

“You pig”, she said, throwing a pillow at me.

The dance competition was still on; I hadn’t changed the channel. Suddenly I remembered that she was supposed to be waiting for me in bed. The look on her face was less angry, more amused. Familiarity breeds amusement, not contempt. Contempt is too weak to survive the test of longevity.

For all the talk of not taking people for granted, isn’t that what we do? I mean, I knew I should have apologized, but when you do something like that every other day, what’s the point anyways?

*

Next morning when I reached the office, Riddhi was waiting for me with the presentation. She went over it, as I kept looking at her bare shoulders, thin and exquisitely feminine. Yes shoulders, of all things! I don’t know why. I think she caught me staring at her a couple of times, and looked away. I thought of what Shikha will think if I had an affair with Riddhi. Would she even care?

Midway, I lost whatever interest I had in the presentation. As it is, knowing the client, I knew there wasn’t much business prospect there. Still I had to take the chance. I was glad that I thought of taking Riddhi along. I had decided to let her do the presentation, and just take care of questions. She needed to learn to do that anyways.

Damn those sexual harassment guidelines, I thought as Riddhi put her arm on the common armrest on the plane. I have always hated the common armrest. Plus, I was in the unenviable middle seat, thanks to the pressure of confirming to chivalry. On my left, a balding middle-aged guy was leafing through the Economics Times. I chuckled thinking how on planes I always end up seated next to balding middle-aged businessmen (or so I always think they are) leafing through the Economics Times. Riddhi was looking out at the setting sun. The sunlight was playing lights and shadows game on her face, underlining her sharp features. And I kept thinking she didn’t really need to use that arm-rest; she had her exclusive one on the window side. But there it was, her arm, freshly waxed, skin glowing in the reflected light, lightly resting on the armrest. I rested my arm alongside hers, barely touching. She moved her arm away, without making an eye contact.

Ten years of a prematurely aging marriage, and I had never felt so strong an urge to stray. For one night, mind you, but the urge was strong. Yes, the eye had roved before, the mind had drifted, the blood had boiled, but this — this was something different.

*

“There is something I need to tell you”, Shikha said, as I pulled her close to me.

“It can’t wait?”, I said, lightly kissing her on the neck.

“No it can’t”, she said, violently pushing me away.

“You’re leaving me?”, I asked, half fearing she’ll say yes.

She smiled derisively. “I am not exactly in the position to decide that, when I almost slept with another man”.

She was on the verge of tears. I didn’t want to hear the details. But however fragile it was, our relationship had survived on truth. On details. In details lies the redemption, when the big-picture is bleak.

“Today, I had been to an audition”, she started.

Will I be able to take the details, today, I thought. Like where all his hand moved. When exactly did she stop him, if she did?

“Shikha you don’t need to tell me”, I said. My voice was down to a whisper…

“Of course I do. I felt like a slut today. I realized today, the world is not as demeaning as we’ve all made it look like. When you want something desperately …. forget it. That sounds like a justification. And I don’t want to justify”

“Leave me Pranav, please”

“Shikha …”

“No. Listen to me. It will be easier in the long run. You don’t want to live with a ghost”

“Listen Shikha, we’ll talk about that later. You need time to deal with something like this”

“Oh yes. We must not jump the pages”, she said. Again derisively, only the derision was directed at herself.

“I know what you’re thinking, Pranav. No I didn’t think of you when I decided I must stop it. That was before… before I consented … But then a fear gripped me. What if I can’t make it, even after this? Would I be able to live like a failed slut? I knew I couldn’t live with myself like that. It’s so much easier to live like a martyr. So, no, there is no ‘exit route’ for you, you see. You’ll have to judge me. It wasn’t our love which won. Just my fears”

We both couldn’t speak a word for a while. We, who had perfected the art of comfortable silence, struggled with this uncomfortable one.

“Leave me Pranav… please”

Martyrs are made from momentary glory, or madness. There isn’t much of a difference in the two. I don’t know what it was, but I said we could sail through this. Against her premonition. She was right; it’s not easy living with a ghost.

*

We checked into a hotel, well past the dinner time. Neither of us was particularly hungry, so we decided to have something light in the restaurant on the terrace. Riddhi had been economical with words for most part of the flight. She was due for a promotion, and I knew what it meant to her. As she joined me in the restaurant, I noticed that she had changed into a simple thin-strapped top and an elegant skirt. She looked stunning. I looked at her appreciatively. She noticed that, and looked away.

The terrace restaurant was almost empty.  We sat down at a corner table. I looked at her, staring a few moments longer than I usually would. When she noticed it, she looked away again. In all my professional career, I had never abused my position. The thought itself filled me with revulsion. But as I sat there, sipping the cold beer, I contemplated it seriously. 

“You know why I got you along, don’t you?”, I asked, point blank. Although that wasn’t really why I had got her along.

“Pranav…” she started saying but stopped. She looked me in the eyes for a moment, a look of disbelief and hurt in her eyes.

“Don’t you?”, I pressed, my voice harsh.

“Yes, for the presentation”, she said. Lameness didn’t suit her, really. But she knew I was serious, yet hoped I was just kidding. After all, nothing could have prepared her for this side of me.

“You mean I couldn’t have done the presentation without you?”, I asked, coldly.

Her lips opened involuntarily. The lower lip trembled. She looked up again, and lowered her eyes, in an instant.

“I didn’t mean it that way, Pranav”

“So how did you mean it?”

“I… Why are you doing this to me, Paranv?” she whispered. “You’ve changed”

You bet I’ve changed, I wanted to say. Some asshole like me, has used his power to destroy my life, or what mattered most in life, anyways. Of course I’ve changed.

“You know you’re due for a promotion, don’t you? Listen, I don’t know how these things are done, and I don’t care. But I can’t pretend. Let’s be honest about it”

She didn’t say a word.

“You know, you don’t have too many options. The world you want to succeed in doesn’t leave you too many options. It’s now or later. It’s me or someone else. That’s all the choice you have got”

A tear formed in her eyes. What kind of assholes do this, I thought, and then I realized I was doing it. A part of me was dead serious, even as I was playing this dangerous game.

“If the answer is yes, meet me in my room afterwards. And for god’s sake, don’t cry. You’re not a kid anymore”, I said, getting up.

*

I knew she wouldn’t come. She would probably put up a case of harassment against me. Or just resign and move to some other job. I wanted her not to come, as I sat in my room, flipping through the idiot box.

Half an hour later, there was a soft knock on the door. It was Riddhi. I let her in. She sat down on the bed.

“Pranav … ” she said, trying hard to keep looking at me. “When I went back to my room, I thought it’s some crazy nightmare. But I know it’s not. I mean, I knew things like this do happen in our field, but I always thought you were different. Anyways. I’m here now. What do you want to do?”

Her voice seemed to have regained control, but her eyes betrayed her anxiety. There was still a hope there.

I moved next to her. I put my arm around her and pulled her face towards me. She had closed her eyes, but her face was contorted.

“You’ll have to take the initiative, you know”, I told her. “We reward only initiative”

Stop punching a dead bag, I kept on telling myself. Stop this torture, right now. Just stop it. How would Shikha have felt, you son-of-a bitch. Stop!

She opened her eyes, which were now pleading silently, hopelessly.

“No I’m not going to make it easy for you”, I said. “You will have to take the initiative”

She broke down. Started crying. “Please don’t do this to me… please… why are you doing this to me?”

It was then I realized what it would have taken Shikha to not make excuses, even to herself. Not once did she abandon the responsibility of her ‘choices’, however forced. And she was paying the price silently — not of the choice, but of assuming an agency. It’s so much easier to cope by letting go the illusion of agency.

“I’m sorry Riddhi. I am really sorry”, I said, as I patted her on the head, with genuine care. Go home. Take the next flight back. Your promotion is not going to be decided by these things, trust me. I’m so sorry… I cannot explain any of this. It’s up to you how you see this”

She looked at me with a look of incomprehension.

“Please go to your room”, I said as I lit a cigarette and walked out in the gallery.

*

We took the flight home the next evening. The presentation went well; Riddhi was absolutely professional, as always. On the plane back home, we checked in into distant seats. At the airport, I offered to drop her home, as it was late. She nodded silently.

“Why, Pranav?”, she said as I pulled into the lane where she stayed. That’s the first thing she had spoken to me after the previous night.

I shrugged. Explanations are a problem, because when you’re unclear yourself, you tend to give out the most sympathetic of the explanations, or the most judgmental, depending on whether you’re trying to absolve yourself, or punish yourself. I wanted to do neither. Absolving was out of question. Punishing would have been an easy exit. I needed to live with the guilt, and learn what Shikha had learned. I guess I was being prophetic when I said to her, we could sail through it.

“Riddhi. I wish I knew. I would be lying if I said it was all just a game. I am terribly sorry for what I did — I know how horrible it was. But I have no answers… or explanations, neither for you, nor for me … yet”

She looked at me, then looked away.

When I reached home, half burnt cigarette in my hand, Shikha was already asleep; I rushed outside, to discard it. When I entered the bedroom again, for the first time in years, I noticed the innocent look on her face, when asleep. I kissed her forehead and slumped onto the floor, right next to her.