Auto Raja

March 20, 2014 4 comments

Last week, I had the best auto ride of my life. It was my first experience with mGaadi, the start-up co-founded by fellow runner Vishy Kuruganti (@ulaar on Twitter). mGaadi is an attempt to address the perennial woes of auto commuters in Bangalore whose stress levels routinely crosses dangerous thresholds whilst attempting simple tasks like trying to get rude, unprofessional auto drivers to go to one’s desired destination and then being forced to deal with the ‘one-and-a-half kudi, sir’ situation, on top of it.

A friend and I had to get to City station last Friday night to catch a train, and being a satisfied user of the mGaadi service a few times already, he had made a booking through his android phone (btw, bonus points to Vishy & team for a smoothly working Windows Phone app too!). My friend’s experience had been very positive – he said it works pretty much like a Meru or any other cab service – when you book an auto, you get a text with the contact details of the driver an hour or so before your specified reporting time. He had already talked earlier to our driver to know where he was, so the auto showed up almost exactly when we stepped outside our apartment gate.

Ravikumar (1)Actually, to term our ride as just an “auto” was doing this particular specimen of the 3-wheeler species a gross injustice. Beginner’s luck had probably got me the crème de la crème of all the autos in the city for my first mGaadi ride.  Gleaming light bulbs on the outside greeted us, making me feel like a celebrity as I got in. A bright tube light lit the inside very well… get some quick work done on your laptop, sir? No? Then how about humming along with your favourite movie song as you ride? A switch was pressed, and voila, a small LCD screen came to life in the front. Ravikumar, our driver, proudly beamed as he chose to play a number from a recent movie – Auto Raja - featuring the Kannada movie star Ganesh. And his punch line was delivered even more beamingly – the auto used  in the filming of that song was the same one we were riding in. We were truly privileged to be ferried by the Auto Raja of Bangalore that night.

(Aside : the original ‘Auto Raja’ released in the early 80s, starring the late, revered Shankar Nag. It has long been considered a cult movie among the auto driver community in this part of the world).

auto raja poster

Not to be outdone by his noble steed, Ravikumar too, turned out to be Royalty, as far as grace and manners go. We realised very quickly that we had underestimated Ravikumar (2)Bangalore traffic, and should have got him to report atleast 15-20 minutes earlier. It was touch-and-go in terms of making it in time to catch our train at City station. We explained this to Ravikumar and asked him to go to Cantonment instead. Initially, he said that he had another customer  appointment at City station after our drop there, but when he realised the gravity of our situation, he graciously agreed to divert our ride to Cant. No grumbling at all. And when we got there, he read out the standard amount (mGaadi charges Rs. 10/- extra for the service, apart from the metered fare). I was totally mind blown. Of course, we paid him extra to compensate him for his detour, but am sure all of us would have gladly done the same.

The key takeaway was how happy I felt after an auto ride in Bangalore, smiling away as I alighted. Smiles/happiness & auto-ride -  almost feels like an oxymoron, doesn’t it! But it did really feel like being in a parallel universe.

Of course, I realise that I probably lucked out a bit and got the absolute best of breed that night. But Vishy says mGaadi is over a thousand autos strong in Bangalore now, and growing each day.

I don’t believe in good omens and all that, but a ride with the Auto Raja that Friday night was a perfect start to a weekend trip that turned out to be an inspiring, humbling experience, one that I hope will greatly enrich my life in the future.

So here’s a huge shout-out to the mGaadi team. May thousands of such Auto Rajas thrive, to spread joy and happiness in the city.

Categories: Autos, mGaadi Tags: ,


February 16, 2014 10 comments

The setting, for what was among the most significant moments of my life, was pretty ordinary. I had ordered a masala dosa at Geeta Bhavan in Chembur on a February morning. Rush hour traffic honked away outside, any pretence the city had of a winter had ebbed away and the humidity had started climbing already. Geeta Bhavan was one of the thousands of ubiquitous udipi joints that dot Bombay’s streets, though this one came with some celebrity lore – it was said that the late Raj Kapoor used to make the trip here from the nearby RK Studios quite frequently.

The phone rang just as I was tucking into the second piece of my dosa. It’s happened, said the voice at the other end, come fast. I left my plate half-eaten, hurriedly img016sipped some coffee, and rushed to the hospital down the street. Twenty minutes earlier, as V was being wheeled inside for the C-section, I asked the doctor how long would it take? Having no prior experience in these matters, I interpreted her will-take-a-while response to mean about an hour, which explained where I was when A1/A2 started taking in their first impressions of our planet. As I registered the presence of what looked like two miniature mummies with some pink icing at the top, a cousin quipped that they looked like fried prawns. Paternal emotions notwithstanding, the description wasn’t too far off the mark.

A father to twins and a few weeks from turning 30 (didn’t know those ‘30 is the new 20’ type lines then). Life as I knew it, was definitely getting reset.

How do dads become heroic icons for their sons? I can imagine myself as a dashing air force pilot as the boys grow up coveting my stylish cap, hoping to emulate me in their adulthood. Or a wise scholar, inspiring them to intellectual endeavours with infinite words of wisdom. An artist, or a musician… enriching their lives with sublime skills that make life worth living.

How about a life steeped in white-collar middle class mediocrity? Totally, abysmally pales in comparision.  Hero, I definitely was. Not.

DSC01116What about best friends then? Here, I think I am on more solid ground. From the time they were very small, doing things together was always great fun, like with best friends. Reading books aloud every night when they had no idea what an alphabet was, watching them react to sounds and the expressions on our faces. Memorable vacations. All the road trips. Chatter and music in the car (Bob Dylan and The Beatles met with approval, Bach and Bhimsen Joshi are still a work in progress). To-die-for bhindi fry with hot tandoori roti at our favourite dhaba.

As they grew older, the conversations that started happening –  just shooting the breeze, cracking up when one of us gets ‘pwned’, from frat stories to existentialist discussions about god and other things. The questions, sometimes trivial, sometimes tough, always fascinating… not one of which was answered with a ‘you don’t need to know this now, you’ll know when you become older’ response. Cycling on weekends. The lovely sound of silence when the four of us  are head down, immersed in our books. The way the cacophony of the idiot box has been somehow silenced – there are days on end when the TV doesn’t get switched on at home. (exception of late:  when an Arsenal or Chelsea game is on – A1 is a gunner for life, A2 swears by the blues).

DSC00268Opening up to inadequacies and failures, because that’s what best friends tend to do. Telling them about your childhood dreams of becoming a Nat Geo photographer  that never came about, because you never had the courage to chase your dreams.  The role reversal when you nurse a terrible hangover and spend most of Saturday morning hunched over the commode (man, A2 really takes off at me for that one. Thankfully have given him hardly any opportunity in recent times  :-) ).

Being vulnerable. Being there. Being best friends.

Between hero and best friend, prefer the latter. Brings meaning to life.

Taking a cue from biologist Richard Dawkins’ superb thought experiment to explain human origin, I have my own one for A1/A2  -  I imagine a photograph taken every day of their lives from the day they were born till today -  a single photo for each day – and then stack these in chronological order in two boxes, one for each of them. I could then pick any one picture at random from a box and instantly know if I am looking at a new born A2 or a toddler A1,  a kindergarten kid, a boy, etc. But it’s impossible for me to pick two successive photographs from a box and say that THIS is the day A1 grew up from a baby to a toddler, or on this day A2 regressed from a cute little boy to exasperating rebel.

V and I talk about them finally becoming teenagers and us getting ready to deal with all the angst and heartache. I’ve told her about this thought experiment as my metaphor for their growing up. Today, on their birthday, I picture that imaginary stack of photographs of the last thirteen years, wondering how do I relate to their metamorphosis from fried prawns to young adults ready to discover what their world is going to be like.


Not sure if it’s an answer at all, but this is what comes to mind – I can imagine a day very soon, when I’ll wistfully tell the wife, “do you think A2 will ever again make me turn around when I wake him up in the morning to sleepily clamber on my back and get an extra few seconds of sleep till I drop him at the washbasin?” Or, “you know, I just realized, its been a while since A1 quietly rested his feet over mine as we sit across the dinner probably won’t ever happen again, right?”

It’s never about a single day, about two successive cards, is it? Watching your children grow up is not about the present, it is always a bittersweet reminiscence of the past.


Here’s to a great thirteenth, guys. DSC00827

Do what makes you happy. Never take yourself too seriously. Be good human beings. And Don’t Panic.

Happy Birthday.




A beautiful poem I read some time ago and has stayed with me. (Hat tip: Deepa Krishnan)


- Vicki L. Wilson DSC00576

There will be a last time that I carry you,

and I won’t know it.

There will be no celebration, no certificate,

as when you were born,

just the offhand thought: He sure has gotten big.

And when I set you down, on your own two feet,

I’ll think nothing of it.


Related Posts:

God and a few other things

Two experiments with truth.. and some questions

Q & A

Categories: Nostalgia, Personal

Joyous Running: The Year Running Became a Part of my Life

January 3, 2014 2 comments

<Very Long post. very self-indulgent too. You’ve been warned>

I ended my post on my first Full Marathon at Bombay (SCMM) in January last year with, ‘ I don’t know if I’ll ever run a FM again. Maybe I’ll shoot for a sub-4 hour goal, maybe I’ll be happy running only Halfs.. I really don’t know

After the last running season ended with the beautiful trail at Auroville in February (where I ran a half), my running spluttered and then pretty much came to a halt. Was out on travel during the TCS 10K in May, so there was no motivation to continue training in the summer. True to type, I said to myself. Cycling had always been the thing I really enjoyed, and I was happy with my daily commute to work and looked forward to the occasional weekend long rides. Running was soon consigned to the back burner.

WP_20130725_001Then the new season beckoned with the Kaveri Trail marathon at Srirangapatana in mid-Sept. My sloth-like training routine didn’t show much life, even after the arrival of a new pair of fluorescent cubbon park neon shoes that I was pretty kicked about. A calf strain also played its part, with even walking becoming a painful affair at times. Courtesy a couple of my friends (thanks, I & H!), got pushed into  a few weekend 10-15Ks, and managed to finish a half marathon at KTM a couple of minutes faster than my last year’s timing there.

By now, registrations for SCMM 2014 had opened, and I had bravely signed up for a FM again. I had run last year’s SCMM in 4:35, and picked a goal of cutting my time by 20 minutes for this year. 20 was an arbitrarily plucked number, and I wasn’t really sure if I’d do anything different to get to it. B, my running guide & mentor, was quite shocked to know that I ran my FM last year without having done a 100KM training mileage month ever (anyone serious about training for a marathon does a minimum of 150 – 160KM per month for 3-4 months). Like I wrote, I didn’t expect to finish last time – some inspiration, some luck, whatever.

Being the gracious and generous soul that he is, B diligently chalked out a customized 16-week SCMM 2014 training plan for me, with a sub 4:15 goal. Reducing over 20 minutes meant that on race day, I had to run each kilometre 30 seconds faster than last year on average, and do that consistently over 42.2 KMs.  B advocates a training philosophy known as ‘Run Less, Run Faster’. It involves 3 training runs a week, with each one focused towards a specific goal. Given my lazy disposition, there was no way I could’ve kept up with most conventional running plans which talk of 5-6 days of weekly running  (which is where the ‘Less’ in RLRF comes in). So this seemed like a good thing to try out. (RLRF also includes 2 days of cross training, but that’s a bit much for me).

The first week was a non-starter because we were on vacation in Sri Lanka at the time (did do a lovely beach run though). But since then, I have managed to stick to my training plan for the most part, give or take a few runs missed because of muscle strains or travel. More importantly, I haven’t missed a single long weekend run for the last 12 weeks.

Don’t how it happened, but somewhere along the way, something inside  clicked…. 3 years after I started, running has now become an integral part of my life.

In his cultish ode to barefoot running, Born To Run, writer Christopher McDougall talks about how the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico embody the spirit of joyous running, when running doesn’t seem like a draining, physical chore, but something that nourishes your soul.

578961_10151137838267636_1067457846_nI am undecided as yet on taking up barefoot running, but I looked at pictures of mine from last year’s Bangalore Ultra (left) and the one this time (right) – insignificant sample size I know,  IMG_1900 (2)but really illustrates the change I feel within.  Another trivial trend – till last year, when the morning alarm rang, I used to curse, find excuses to push my run to another day, etc. These days, I am usually mentally awake a few minutes before the alarm goes off, and love the silence and solitude of the morning as I get ready for my run.  I’ve also noticed that if I don’t run for a few days, I feel a bit low, get tetchy, irritable (V can attest to this). The surge of endorphins on a consistent basis is doing wonders for my life, in general.

For me atleast, Runners high is not a touchy-feely, feel-good myth. Running, these days, fills me with joy.

And like these things tend to happen, when you’re feeling good, serendipity gives you a little nudge too. Through a casual conversation, I was very lucky this season to discover Dr. G, who’s now my physio cum miracle-man. With his uncanny understanding of muscle and bone structure, Doc got me out of my perennial cycle of injury and rehab. He correctly identified that the root cause of all my injury problems was that I had abysmally low joint and muscle flexibility (the first time he made me do some stretching exercises, his quip was that it was like trying to bend a steel rod), which put an abnormally high strain on my joints, ligaments, etc, leading to injury.

Doc’s influence on my running has been almost talismanic. A week before the ultra, I developed a bad foot inflammation, wincing in pain when my foot pressed on the ground. Frantic phone call happened, some foot stretches were recommended. I wasn’t sure if I should risk further injury, but he told me to go and just run. Joyously. (Yes, Doc’s a barefoot runner too :) ) And run, I did.

Goa River HM 2013Oh, and along the way, I ran my first sub 2-hour Half too, at the Goa River Half Marathon in December. Again, one of those serendipitous happenings. Goa was not on the Goaagenda at all this season, but a cousin was very enthu and suggested a few of us go run and also do a mini-vacation. The said cousin dropped out later, but V and me went ahead with our plans and had a great time (Joets in Bogmalo is highly recommended), with my entry in the sub 2-Hour Half club and a PB for V being the icing on a lovely extended weekend break.

So a year later, its SCMM time again. Based on my training runs, I feel good about beating my goal. Of course, it all depends on how things turn out that Sunday morning – the weather, how your first half of the race goes, etc. And the fact that I will be flying over the north pole across a 12 hour time zone to land in Bombay on Saturday will make it interesting too.

But here’s the deal. Whichever way it goes.. 4;15, 4:30, even if I have to hobble and pull out, whatever.. doesn’t matter. Really. At all.

Running is now an addiction. I’ll keep getting my highs.

Here’s to joyous running.


I have never, ever met an unhappy runner. Running makes you happy, it takes away everything. 

                           — Milind Soman, on barefoot running


After running a few marathons I can explain to people why I run. It calms me. I can’t imagine not having it in my life. It helps me to sort through things. It’s like stepping outside myself and getting a better perspective of who I am.                          

                           — Gail Kislevitz, columnist, Runners World. Author, First Marathons: Personal Encounters wih the 26.2-Mile Monster

The Times They Are a-Changin’

December 4, 2013 Leave a comment


So it’s been bad news of late for men in positions of power. For those who believe their position confers them with carte blanche privileges for despicable actions.

An editor who thought he was god and also god’s gift to women, then tried to be jury and judge for his own crime, has ended up in the unfamiliar environs of a prison cell – where he will hopefully remain for a long, long time.

A senior Supreme Court judge apparently tried to woo an intern his granddaughter’s age with wine – nothing wrong with that, except that she thought he called her to his hotel room to discuss legal briefs, but got indecently propositioned instead. Things are beginning to get uncomfortable for him, and the long arm of his profession has started catching up with his mis-deeds.

A prime ministerial candidate given to hubris, displayed touching concern by deploying the might of the state’s ATS mechanism to tail a woman without her consent or knowledge. His party, and more sadly, prominent women supporters, defended this as a father’s inalienable right to snoop on his adult child. What next…. bring in the army to enforce the khaps’ death sentences on young couples in love?

For women in this part of the world, its bad news to just go about their day to day lives.

But the old order changeth. And the young are showing us the way.

The Tehelka reporter wrote : “Had I chosen silence in this instance, I would not have been able to face either myself or the feminist movement that is forged and renewed afresh by generations of strong women.

To her, the law intern, and all other courageous women out there who are breaking down patriarchal hierarchies - RESPECT.

womenvotingindelhielectionsAs I write this, there are reports of record voter turnouts in the Delhi elections, following similar patterns in other recent state elections. And here’s what makes this trend even moreVoterSexRatio cheer-worthy – a significant increase in the sex ratio of voters over the years.


Women in India are making their voice heard.

Taking control of their lives, defining the world they want to live in.

The times, they are a-changin’.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times
they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

   – Bob Dylan, 1964

Champion Indian ODI teams: Which is the best among them all?

June 26, 2013 2 comments

India’s victory last week in the Champions Trophy 2013 brought back memories of another title 28 years ago. No, not the World Cup – that was 30 years ago. This was the win in the World Championship of Cricket (WCC) which was held in Australia in 1985 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the State of Victoria. For an Indian fan, there are some striking similarities in the two tournaments. Both the CT13 & the WCC 85 featured the top teams of the world pitted against each other (though the WCC had only 7 teams competing, as against 8 in the CT, since South Africa wasn’t part of world cricket in 1985). India entered both tournaments as winners of the World ODI title held 2 years earlier. Like in the CT 2013, India won 5 matches on the trot to lift the WCC trophy in ’85. Then too, India fielded an unchanged side almost all through, until Roger Binny fell ill before the final against Pakistan, and Chetan Sharma had to take his place.

For those of my generation, the WCC triumph will always be symbolized by images of Ravi Shastri winning his Audi as player of the tournament and the entire Indian team somehow WCC 85managing to pile on the car and taking it for a spin around the MCG. The WCC was also the first time we started getting live cricket coverage from Channel 9 in Australia. Coloured clothing, out of the world images, classy commentary.. and of course, bikini-clad girls among the spectators… for someone brought up on DD and AIR drabness, this was like getting access to paradise. Sigh.

For my money, that WCC winning team was the best limited overs side that India ever put out on a cricket field. After the victory in Australia, they won the Rothmans cup in Sharjah a few weeks later, which featured wins over Pakistan ( a rampaging Imran Khan, with figures of 6 wickets for 14 runs, shot out India for 125, but they fought back and surreally bowled out Pak for 87), and Australia in the final.

The first obvious comparision is with the ’83 heroes. Though the core nucleus of the team from 1983 remained, the emergence of exciting new talent like Azharuddin and L Sivaramakrishnan in the ’84-85 season added considerable meat to the batting and bowling in the ’85 squad. These guys were of far better calibre than bit-players like Kirti Azad, Yashpal Sharma, Balwinder Sandhu – gallant contributors all in the World Cup win, but of limited cricketing ability. The boisterous Sadanand Viswanath brought additional dash to the batting over Syed Kirmani. The batting order was also re-jigged – Gavaskar moved into the middle-order, leading to a very successful opening combination – the solidity of Shastri and the dashing boldness of Srikkanth.  Skill-wise, this outfit was definitely a notch or two above the ’83 one.

A couple of games into CT ’13, I tweeted that this current Indian team reminded me of that WCC ’85 Indian side. (luckily, I didn’t end up jinxing anything with that tweet, like it has happened umpteen times before). And minutes after Ashwin bowled that final ball and Dhoni uncharacteristically jumped around with whoops of joy, I tweeted again, and this time I pronounced judgement. 5 on the trot to win WCC ’85. 5 wins on the trot in CT ’13. This team is better than that one. Best ever Indian limited overs side, IMO”.

I guess some of that judgment was influenced by the elation and thrill of watching India clinch a nerve-wracking cliff-hanger. So, with the sobering light of reason three days later,  I ask myself, is this team really better than the ’85 one?

Lets stack up the batting line-ups first.  The aggression of the Dhawan/Rohit opening combination easily bests Srikkanth-Shastri.  Then the middle-order – Kohli (who will probably end up as one of the best ever in ODIs), a resurgent-Dinesh Karthik, Raina, Dhoni, all of whom found their calling primarily as limited over specialists first, must find favour over a line-up of Azharuddin, Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohinder Amarnath and Sunny G (he of the infamous 36 not out in 60 overs).

The bowling is more evenly matched. Bhuvaneswar Kumar with his swing and control is the 2013 version of Roger Binny in ’85. Kapil is in a league of his own, and Madan Lal was an able ally in the pace department. Umesh Yadav & Ishant fall a bit short in comparision. But 2 top-class tweakers in Ashwin & Sir Jadeja score over Shastri’s left-arm spin, Siva’s guile mixed with a leg-spinner’s profligate tendencies and the gentle medium pace of Amarnath (the joke those days was that Jimmy’s bowling run-up was faster than his bowling speed).

The defining feature of that side however, was the plethora of all-rounders they had. Kapil as one of the best ever in the history of the game, Shastri & Amarnath bringing solidity at the top of the line-up along with their bowling, Binny & Madan Lal as competent bowling all-rounders. That team almost did not have any tail. Before Ravindra Jadeja became his go-to man, MS Dhoni often expressed his fond wish of finding an all-rounder who would bring that all important balance to his side. The team of ’85 had an embarassment of riches in this department and was a huge factor in making that team what it was.

Fielding wise, it’s a no contest. Only Azhar and Kapil from that team will come anywhere near the likes of Kohli or Raina. The rest were mostly in the Ishant Sharma category. But I feel that this is a bit of an unfair comparision – fielding in those days was not the key strategic asset in a team’s arsenal the way it is now.

Overall, it’s a close call. A much stronger batting in this modern India team, the allrounder advantage for the senior generation. What I think tilts the balance in favour of the current team is MS Dhoni. Not just for his batting and wicket-keeping  – again, he will go down as one of the greats in ODI history, Sadanand Viswananth doesn’t even merit a comparision – but for his captaincy, the culture and vision that he brings to this side. Clearly, this 2013 CT winning squad is HIS team.  As the senior most leader of the squad, he would want to mould and nurture this bunch to even greater glory.

Dhoni CT

And, for me, that is what will lay this debate to rest. If this team manages an encore in 2015, then any lingering doubts about this being India’s best ever ODI team can be safely discarded. But even if they miss the pinnacle of glory in 2015, I would rate this team very high on the pecking order.

PS: I have intentionally not brought the 2011 WC winning squad into the consideration set. While the amount of pressure that team soaked up on the way to their victory was immense, I think that playing in home conditions was a key factor in that win. That attack, and that batting line-up, would have been found sorely wanting if  the WC had been played in another continent. And all those oldies were a big liability while fielding (think 20 runs every game).  On sheer cricketing ability, they don’t measure up.

Thoughts, comments?

Thoughts on ‘Bombay Talkies’

June 3, 2013 2 comments

In the Karan Johar helmed short in Bombay Talkies, there is a scene where Randeep Hooda’s character Dev finds the unabashedly gay Avinash unexpectedly knocking at his door one bombaytalkies1evening. Avinash knows that Dev’s wife is not at home, and asks him, “want to come out”? We know by now that he is attracted to Dev – who is married to Avinash’s attractive colleague from work (a ravishing Rani Mukherjee) – and the dialogue is a play on Avinash’s fond hope that Dev will, you know, “come out”.  A corny line – there are other ones too (gale mein mangalsutra, man mein kamasutra) -   and so reminiscent of many such one-liners in Johar’s grating TV show, but I’m nit-picking here. Johar’s effort in Bombay Talkies rises well above expectations. He manages to hold his own against the other three luminaries of new wave Hindi cinema.

I liked little touches in the screenplay, like when it’s the turn of Dev, slowly awakening to his repressed sexual orientation, to land up at Avinash’s tiny hovel. Just as a thought blurb went inside my head <how the hell did he know where Avinash lived.. but hey, this is a KJO  movie, details don’t matter, do they>, Dev says,  “office se tumhara address mila”. A passionate lip lock then ensues between two adult men on a mainstream Hindi cinema screen.  Breaking new ground, and done well.

The thing I didn’t get in Johar’s film, is the connection to 100 years of Hindi cinema, which all the four miniatures in Bombay Talkies are supposed to be a celebration of. A brief reference to Madan Mohan, Dev’s extensive collection of old Hindi film songs? Too weak a link. So here’s a theory:  Johar’s film opens with a small girl begging for alms in what looks like the Dadar station over-bridge, singing the evergreen classic, Ajeeb Dastan hai yeh.  Ajeeb dastan = strange story. Strange = Queer. A story of a love triangle with a gay twist – was this about Karan Johar riffing on Hindi cinema’s age old love triangle theme, with his own personal stamp?

Dibankar Banerjee continues to impress as a filmmaker who intimately understands the medium of cinema and is imbued with a fine sensibility that permeates every frame. Working on an adaptation of Satyajit Ray’s Patol Babu Filmstar, Banerjee’s craft deftly weaves in references to serious issues like the collapse of Bombay’s Lower Parel mills and its impact on thousands of laid off workers and their families, the bizarre craze for emu farming which took root  in parts of southern and western India a few years ago (the opening sequence where the marathi bais in the chawl crack vulgar jokes, with the emu hopping around in the corridor, is such a delight), the demise of the nautanki form of folk theatre, all inside a heart-warming 30 minute short about a father who accidentally stumbles on a day of fame as a movie extra and as a result, redeems himself in front of his daughter.


And with a talent like Nawazuddin Siddiqui as his star, what results is magic on screen.  Plus that cameo from Sadashiv Amrapukar. Uff. Go see, if you haven’t already.

Zoya Akhtar turns the spotlight on how the allure of movie stars gives rise to so many celluloid dreams amongst our teeming masses. A young boy gets besotted with Katrina Kaif when he sees her gyrate to Sheila ki Jawani on TV. He starts worshipping her poster and wearing his sister’s clothes whilst obsessively mimicking her dance moves. In contrast, his father wants him to “be a man” and focus on sports like football, even fending off his daughter’s beseeching pleas to pay for her outstation history trip at school, to cough up the football fees.

Training her lens on this fairly “normal” family, Akhtar insightfully zooms in on deep rooted  gender biases that exist even among our educated middle class. In her trademark understated style, she allows the audience a nuanced view on the husband-wide relationship dynamics, the bonding between brother-sister, all of which add a solid emotional connection with the story. The casting is pitch perfect too.

bombaytalkies3Thankfully, Akhtar steers clear of any attempt to try and tie up all the ends. She does not offer any comment on the possibility of the protagonist’s alternate sexuality, justify why a child performs a very raunchy item number, or any hint on how the anticipated hostile reaction from the father would be resolved. For a short, any of these would have added unnecessary clutter to the story. The rousing climax with a freeze frame of the boy deliriously happy to have found his calling, is a gratifying end to a well made film.

The premise of Anurag Kashyap’s story – a small towner coming to Bombay to try and get an audience with Amitabh Bachchan to satisfy his ailing father’s wish – seems to be, depending on your POV,  a banal storyline or one with all sorts of possibilities. A couple of friends that I spoke to about Bombay Talkies were of the former view, and felt a bit let down that Kashyap didn’t come up with something   more “edgy”. I hugely enjoyed this one though. Of all the four shorts, I thought that Kashyap’s film embodies the manic obsession that Bombay’s Bollywood engenders among its fans (especially from the hinterland), the best. Growing up in in Bombay, relatives/friends who visited used to ask about “Amitabh’s house”. Whenever we passed by Juhu, I saw fans  outside Bachchan’s bungalow in Juhu hoping catch a glimpse of Hindi cinema’s greatest star. Kashyap captures this facet of hero worship beautifully.

He taps into his  Gangs of Wasseypur ensemble to unearth another dynamite performer in Vineet Kumar Singh, who essays the role of a son on a mission with aplomb. One gets the sense that the maverick auteur  is indulging himself and having a lot of fun with this film – naming Singh’s character as Vijay, the name Bachchan had for his most memorable screen roles, Vijay’s raconteuring bombaytalkies4 to his fellow travellers in the train before tragedy strikes – there is an element here of the bit actor Singh evolving into a performer within the character of Vijay that he plays - I felt like there are layers to what appears as a simple storyline.   Amit Trivedi’s music score lives up his high standards as usual. The twist in the story at the end, though a bit predictable, leaves us smiling at this bitter-sweet tale.

I found it hard to pick a favourite out of the four films. Each has its own voice, and a unique perspective of looking at the way movies have touched our lives over the years. Among the best to come out of Bollywood this year, Bombay Talkies is an experiment that works. One jarring note though - the garish parade of Bollywood stars dancing awkwardly, smiling to the cameras in the self-congratulatory song at the end.. should have cut this part out entirely.  Almost leaves a sour after-taste to what is an otherwise engaging couple of hours of good cinema.

Long Live Cricket, Cricket is Dead

May 28, 2013 2 comments

The IPL leaves me cold. This has been the case long before l’affaire bookie hit the headlines. In fact, I hold a relatively more positive view on the whole betting thing than all the cynicism I hear all around me. I actually do think that most of the players are actually trying to do their best, it’s only a few idiots who succumb to the lure and end up risking their future.

No, the reason I’ve largely been indifferent to the IPL is not so much to do with the cash and the corruption, but more about what it throws up as cricketing lore.

Cricket, for me, has always been about a rich tapestry of fondly recalled narratives. Among my earliest memories of following the sport is India’s tour of Australia in the winter of ’81. That basically meant waking up in the wee hours of morning to hold a largish rectangular box, called the radio in those days, close to my ear, and hear voices over a crackling SW frequency describe proceedings. I remember the peerless Greg Chappell’s (adjective refers to the world’s best batsman then, not India coach later) double century in the 1st test paving the way for a thumping Aussie innings victory. India then fought back with a draw at Adelaide in the 2nd, with Sandeep Patil (the Sehwag of those days) and his magnificent 174, a glorious knock made even more special because of what had happened in the previous match – Patil was hit on the head courtesy a vicious lifter from Lenny Pascoe, and had to retire hurt.. no helmets those days, you see.

MCG was the decider, a match which we almost forfeited when Sunny Gavaskar staged his famous walk-out after being adjudged LBW to Lillee. Better sense prevailed and the match resumed, but by late afternoon on the 4th day, all seemed lost when Australia was set a paltry 143 to win in the 4th innings, for a 2-0 series win. And with 3 of the 4 Indian bowlers being injured, the outcome seemed a mere formality. But Dilip Doshi bowled valiantly, Ghavri snared Chappell for a duck, and the heroic Kapil Dev, practically limping on one leg, got 5 wickets on a crumbling pitch to bowl the Aussies out for 83 and tie the series.

slip fielders in a test match

More than three decades later, I can still remember the numbers – 174, 83, 143 – without looking up the score books. There are many, many more such similar themes over the years – marveling at the marauding Caribbean pace quatrets, but celebrating the bunch of no-hopers who stormed the world in ’83; the ’86 Madras tied test– a dehydrated Dean Jones puking on the pitch on the way to a 200+ score, India bravely taking up Border’s challenge of a last day chase of 348 ; 1990 in England – India 9 wickets down & 24 runs short of following-on when Kapil Dev deposits Eddie Hemmings into the stands for 4 consecutive sixes to avoid the follow-on; Perth ’92 – when an 18 year old boy with curly hair and a squeaky voice served notice to the world about his talent with a scintillating 114 on a fast & bouncy track, defiantly standing up to the Aussie bowlers as more accomplished men fell around him; the Desert Storm of ’98; the decade of the 2000s when Indian cricket found its voice again after the shame of match fixing – who can ever forget Kolkata 2001 and that epic series against Waugh’s invincibles, the gutsy Ganguly decision to bat first at Leeds ‘02, all those Dravid-inspired overseas wins; the many heartbreaks too – Graham Gooch sweeping us out in the semis at Wankhede in ’87, Barbados ’97, Sydney ‘08. I could keep going.

Then as I look at six years of IPL, what do I reminisce about? Probably the fairy tale of Rajasthan Royals in the 1st edition, but nothing else, really. A blur of images - some frenzied action on the field  (does anyone remember anything of Brendon McCullum’s  breathtaking 158 in the inaugural IPL game, an astounding innings on any metric of cricketing skill? ) ,  cheerleaders, cacophonic commentary, commercial excesses. What’s the bloody narrative for a cricket fan?

Ram Guha (or was it Mukul Kesavan?) once compared the 3 formats of cricket – he said (and I paraphrase), the pleasure of a Test Match was akin to drinking scotch, ODIs was like having IMFL and T20, like country arrack. Taking a cue from that one, here’s my version for the IPL. For me, great cricket – riveting test series, ODIs which have context – is like a leisurely afternoon of languorous love making – unhurried, ebbs and flows, laughter, charming conversation….an afternoon that you fondly remember for a long, long time. IPL is like a series of consecutive one-night stands, where after the first couple of ones, you could probably replace any one tryst with another, I guess.

The best afternoon of cricket that I have ever seen (unfortunately was not at the ground, but was lucky enough to have seen every moment on live television) was this one – Sachin vs Steyn, Newlands 2011 . A legend with his powers slightly on the wane, versus another legend-in the-making at the peak of his ability – two cricketing gods giving it their all.. a classic for the ages, was an utter privilege to watch. Against an afternoon like that, one-night stands don’t even come in the reckoning, do they?

Indeed, (with due apologies to CLR James)  What do they of cricket know, who only IPL know?

Categories: Cricket Tags: , ,

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