Of Books, Choices and a Reading Project

February 5, 2015 6 comments

WP_20150107_08_00_37_ProOne of the things that I routinely do when I visit someone else’s place for the first time is look for a bookshelf, and if I spot one, spend a fair bit of time looking at the titles. Apart from being a great conversation starter, a book shelf says so much about the person – if it’s an acquaintance who one doesn’t know well yet, I can almost foresee how well we are going to get along (or not) :-) .  However, with the advent of e-readers, this kind of personality analysis is sadly becoming more and more infrequent. It seems a bit rude to ask for someone’s Kindle and scrutinise their purchase history.

The contents of the book shelf featured alongside has probably been the single biggest influence on my general worldview and has shaped a lot of my thinking. The 200+ books nestled in this favourite corner of our home has some of the best writing that I’ve been privileged to read in the last couple of decades of my life. Of course, there are more books in other parts of the house, plus the many borrowed from friends & libraries over the years, but the ones here are a fair distillation of my adult-life reading. Applying my psycho-analysis to myself, this book shelf almost defines who I am.

My reading pattern tends to yo-yo a bit. Sometimes, days go by when I don’t open a single page, and there are times when I spend most of the weekend and week-nights post-dinner, reading. In recent years, on average, I’ve settled down into a rhythm of finishing 12-15 books over the course of a year. And as I get older, this has led me to think carefully about what I read nowadays.

Given where I am in life, I give myself another 35-40 years of a (hopefully) healthy life, where my eyes will allow me to read for any length of time. This basically means that I will have to pick the 450-500 absolute must-reads from now till the day I die. While 500 may sound like a lot at first, it really isn’t that much. Think about the choice set: the millions and millions of titles published since Guttenberg came up with the printing press, and a similarly unimaginable number that will come into existence over the next four decades. From this vast ocean of literature, I have to find and choose the 500 best pearls of wisdom, entertainment, knowledge, pleasure, pathos, etc. And who knows, I might die of cancer in five years, or get hit by a truck once again while cycling next week (and not be so lucky to get away alive this time). Bottomline, I have begun to get really, really picky in what I read.

For example, the editors at Amazon recently published a list of 100 books to be read in a lifetime, of which I have read only about twenty…. 30-40 more to go from that list, at least. But the majority there are fiction, while most of my reading over the last couple of years has drifted into non-fiction, which makes it another huge list to look at and choose from. Then there are all the classics that I put off reading in my youth for later in life – Dostoyevsky, Dickens, and the likes…. now, I am in that “later” phase of my life. Poetry is something that I have never related to earlier, but after reading gems such as this one by Wislawa Szymborska, is a genre where I am desperate to make up for lost time.

So I have to be really thoughtful on which books to spend my time on.

The other thing that’s happened to my reading of late, is that I straddle 3-4 books at any point of time. I guess this is a consequence of getting into mostly non-fiction reading. I cannot remember the last time I stayed up till the wee hours of the morning because I couldn’t put down a thriller until I got to the last page. Actually, wait.. I do remember – Steig Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was when it happened last, a few years ago. I hardly read those sort of novels now.

On my bedside right now:

Brian Greene’s The Fabric Of The Cosmos. The big questions about our origin and how our universe works have become a  bit of an obsession with me.. physics, biology, genomics, stuff like that. Have discovered authors who deliver high quality science writing in the language of the layman. Greene is one of the best in that breed.

I’m an atheist by choice, but the few times when I can empathise with the divine feeling that believers describe, is when I hear MS Subbalakshmi on the stereo. She lived a very interesting life too. Given the paucity of publicly available written material available on her, T J S George’s biography, A Life In Music, makes a masterful effort even more precious.

On the Kindle:

Re-reading The Brothers Karmazov, two decades after my first attempt. In my twenties, I found Russian novelists depressing (exception: Chekov). Now, older and (I hope) wiser, I’ve started on it again, and the insights into and reflections on life that Dostoyevsky weaves into his characters are compelling to read now. Next, Great Expectations.

Also on the Kindle, Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: Written with clarity and verve, a depressing but brilliant account of how the consequence of mere human existence is proving to be disastrous for many other species and ecosystems in our planet. Next, Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.

The reading that I look forward to most these days is a book that I finished just a couple of months ago. Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens who teaches Humanities at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, offered a course called ‘A Brief History of Humankind’ on Coursera some time last year. I signed up enthusiastically, but like with many other courses, didn’t last the distance and dropped out midway. I was still fascinated with the ideas and discussions that the course threw up, so when his book Sapiens (which is a print version of the online course) released a few months later, I immediately ordered my copy. Harari traces the history of our species over the last 70,000 years, with three distinct inflection points – the Cognitive , Agricultural and Scientific Revolutions. With lucid, evocative  language, a sharp wit and cogently laid out arguments, he tackles a broad swathe of issues across areas spanning anthropology, culture, myths, evolutionary biology, to name just a few, and constructs a fascinating narrative of how we came to be where we are as a species. If I were to pick the one standout book from all of my last year’s reading, this would be the one.

I really believe that books like Sapiens must be made compulsory reading for high school children in our schools. Since that is never going to happen in our education system, I started a reading project during the boys’ Christmas break. Now over dinner at home, I read out a few pages from Sapiens aloud while A1/A2 and V chew on their calories. Harari’s extremely engaging style and compelling content has meant that they were hooked right from the first few pages, which was not surprising at all.

For me personally, this whole process of reading out a book to them has been immensely gratifying. The last time I read out aloud to A1/A2 was more than a decade ago, when they were toddlers, so it probably triggers a strong sense of nostalgia inside… watching their faces as I read aloud, trying to answer all their questions which triggers some amazing conversations.. this reading project has been a deeply satisfying experience, one that I shall cherish for the rest of my life.

SCMM 2015: A spectacular sunrise, coping with cramps, unforgettable memories

January 28, 2015 4 comments
Pic credit: Fellow SCMM runner Harshad Inarkar

Pic credit: Fellow SCMM runner Harshad Inarkar

The timing of that sunrise couldn’t be more perfect. You are almost halfway into your race, have settled into a steady rhythm, body nicely warmed up and cruising in auto-pilot mode. The darkness of the night slowly makes way for the break of dawn. Your senses are alive to the smells of the sea breeze and the crisp chill of a winter morning in Mumbai.

You find yourself running on the magnificent Bandra-Worli Sea-link, with its imposing architecture. On the one day in the year when the only sounds emanating from one of Mumbai’s most iconic structures, are the gentle tip-tap of running shoes on the tarmac, or of runners making small talk, exhorting each other to keep going. No braking, no screeching of tyres, no honking.

It’s all perfectly set up.

And then you see it on your right, an orange circle slowly rising above the skyline. As you traverse the length of the sea-link and head towards Mahim, it morphs into a golden yellow ball of fire, heralding a new day for a city which ironically prides itself as one which never sleeps.

With every year that I come back and run the marathon at SCMM, I’ve become more aware of and alive to savouring this majestic sight. 2015 was my fourth time at this event, my third marathon (I ran a half-marathon in 2012), and again fully lived up to its promise of memorable memories. Spectacular sunrises apart, it was, as always, a special feeling to run in the country’s biggest marathon event and my home city. Staying in Sion where I grew up, spending time with family & friends, forming new bonds. This has become a much looked-forward-to annual weekend ritual.

As I wrote in an earlier post, the 2015 edition was also my first real crack at a 4 hour marathon (I ran a 4:16:02 last year). A 4 hour marathon is a  kind of Holy Grail once you become a serious recreational runner (well, some would argue that qualifying for Boston is the Holy Grail, but that one is still in the realms of fantasy for me) . My training had gone reasonably well, and I was cautiously optimistic about race day. The only potential pitfall was exactly the same as last year – a work trip to Redmond the week before – which meant that I crossed 14000 kms over a 13 hour time-zone to land in Mumbai about 24 hours before the starting gun went off at Azad Maidan on the morning of 18th January.

Jet lag and the usual pre-race jitters kept me awake all night, but it didn’t seem to matter much. On race day morning, I was pacing myself to perfection. As it transpired, I ran the ideal race till 36 Km. Was tracking better than my pre-race plan on each and every 5K-split till that point. I felt really good, had a nice rhythm going.. had even crossed the dreaded Peddar road slopes without too much of a bother.

SCMM 2015 Plan vs Actual

But you know what they say about life happening to you while you are busy planning for it (also applies to running marathons in hot and humid mornings like the one at SCMM 2015). Just after turning past the corner at Wilson college and entering Marine drive, as I began to habour visions of breasting the finish line comfortably under 4 hours (chickens, counting, hatching…. yes, yes.. I know), my left quadricep, moody drama-queen that she is, felt like that was the point when she really needed some deep love and affection. So a case of bad cramps it was. Really bad. Grimacing, clutching back of left thigh and hobbling in pain kind of bad.

Now there are two ways that this could have gone from then on. One is what you see in those Youtube clips that folks keep posting all the time in running forums. The ones which end with Beethoven’s Fifth  playing in the background, as the heroic and courageous runner battles insurmountable pain and collapses in victory just after the finishing line, goal achieved.

The other way is what I did (which is why no one posts these kind of stories). True to type, I chose an icing+massage at the nearby aid station over pushing-through the pain (or trying to push through and end up not-finishing). This obviously cost me a few minutes, and while my leg felt better post-treatment, I still wasn’t confident enough to go for a final kick at the pace that I had originally planned. End result : 4:00:37.

So, the oft-heard cliché about the glass being half-full or half-empty, now had its perfect case-study. Quite a few of my runner buddies sent messages cheering me up, thinking that I would be crestfallen at having come so close to a sub-4. V, who had an awesome finish earlier – she smashed her previous HM best that she ran just 3 months ago at Bangalore, by a full 13 minutes – greeted me back at Sion cheerfully, but with a teeny-weeny hint of regret – it would have been the perfect day if I had finished 38 seconds faster, I guess.

All that empathy from everyone around felt nice, and also a bit amusing. I remember reading somewhere that race timings should be the last thing that determines one’s happiness, and I really couldn’t agree more. Got back to Bangalore  the next day and conversation with A1/A2 went something like this, hey appa.. heard you did some 4 hours at Mumbai, right? Cool. Btw, you need to fix the XboxLike, NOW.  

Keeps things in perspective.

Honestly, on that Sunday afternoon, I was just blissfully content in the afterglow of a special day. Running has filled my life with so much joy and happiness, and on days like SCMM, it truly feels like I am in paradise. You always carry back wonderful memories.. the banter and chatter at the start line, hi-fis with the  kids sporting their sunshine-smiles near Mahim church, the unending enthusiasm of the families (spanning multiple generations) handing out food and drink  on Peddar road, all the bands rousing your spirits along the way, treating complete strangers who are running alongside as kindred souls just because running a marathon together brings that special camaraderie… unforgettable. Above all, just the pure pleasure of running through the streets of Bombay in the kind of atmosphere that only SCMM offers.

And that sunrise. Man. Running on the sea-link and watching the sun come up like that. That moment alone will make every possible highlights reel of my life when I re-play that movie from my deathbed.

So here’s my take on the numbers. Ran my first 42 a couple of years ago, now this 4-hour marathon. 42 @ 42, 4 @ 44..  has a sort of a nice ring to it, no? Am  far, far fitter in my forties than I was in my twenties. More importantly, happier, healthier, and feeling more alive than ever before.  What more can one ask for from life?

Run joyously.

Categories: Marathon, Running Tags:

The Stuff Dreams are made of

December 19, 2014 Leave a comment

 sol·i·tude

noun \ˈsä-lə-ˌtüd, -ˌtyüd\ : a state or situation in which you are alone usually because you want to be

 

Do you prefer doing things alone or in the company of others? Some of the things on which I spend a fair amount of time every week, for example, are primarily solitary activities – reading, running, biking, etc. But what about other things that one would normally enjoy as a communal activity.. how different would these experiences be if you were experiencing it alone?

A Swedish TV Series called Experiment Ensam (Experiment Alone) did an interesting project recently to glean insights on the role of community in human enjoyment. After five experiments where a single person experienced things alone that would usually be done with a crowd – e.g. watching a stand-up show, a karaoke performance – the last one resulted in Fredik Wikingsson , a middle-aged Stockholm TV personality, lucking out on a truly-never-in-a-lifetime experience.

Wikingsson, a father of two kids, also describes himself as the biggest Bob Dylan fan there is. As part of this project, he was chosen to experience a concert where Bob Dylan played for him, live and exclusive. And exclusive, in this setting, meant just that – Wikingsson comprised the entire audience of one person for that performance.

wikingsson

“I was smiling so much it was like I was on ecstasy,” he says, recounting his feelings in  this lovely  this Rolling Stone interview  “My jaw hurt for hours”

The channel put together a documentary-style video capturing his whole experience. It’s a great clip.. watch Wikkingsson’s bemusement on whats the best way to appreciate the incredible show that’s unfolding in front of him.. watch Bob Dylan’s response, classy as always.

If you are a Dylan fan, this is a must watch. Even if you are not, this is just an incredible story.

The part where he’s struggling to hold off his tears as Dylan plays the harmonica…. I would have just collapsed weeping. Man, this is what dreams are made of. Epic.

 

 

Categories: Culture, Solitude Tags:

RIP, Deven Verma

December 5, 2014 Leave a comment

In these days of incessant social media sharing about any news, be it trivial, trite, or terrible, was surprised that I didn’t see anyone talking about Deven Verma on my FB/Twitter TL this week. Like the memorable characters he essayed in his films, he was understated even in his passing away, which happened earlier this week.

Deven Verma brought a rare sensibility to Hindi cinema. His ability to create a Marx-brothers-like  zaniness in everyday situations was unique, albeit with a style that was sort of an anti-thesis to the over-the-top, almost slapsticky style that Groucho & co employed. A perennially befuddled expression that conveyed a I-don’t-understand-how-this-world-works-and-its-better-that-I-don’t-try, laced with almost minimalist dialogue produced some of the best comedy seen on our screens.

devenverma.

His repertoire really came through in those lovely ‘middle-class movies’ genre that was the preserve of greats like  Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee, etc . Angoor was obviously the standout, but there were a string of other roles which showcased his talent. His cameo in GolMal, is a favourite of mine.

This lovely tribute by Jai Arjun captures what a gem he was, both as an actor and as a person.  Just visualise him with that classic deadpan expression, delivering this line “Ghisi-hui, purani, bekaar si cheezeen (a slight pause) ..jaise tumhare pitaji”.   Priceless.

I’m glad that he chose to stay away from the degeneration that has taken over humour in Hindi movies, since those glorious  days.

This weekend, go get a DVD of Angoor. And eat some pakodas, prefereably laced with bhang.

RIP, Deven Verma.

Categories: Movies Tags:

Remembering the Bengaluru Marathon 2014

December 4, 2014 2 comments

As the undisputed running capital of India, Bangalore, the city that I now call home, was long overdue to host a marathon of its own. So it was great to finally see the inaugural edition of the Bengaluru Marathon being flagged off on 19 Oct 2014.  Participation from the running fraternity was encouraging for a first-time event, with about 1000 marathoners and 3500 half-marathoners lining up at the start. Crowd  turnout along the route wasn’t great, but that’s understandable – it takes time for a city to take a marathon to heart. It’s taken Bombay ten years to make SCMM the premier marathon event in the country.

BM_Oct 19 2014_1

I used to cover large sections of the marathon route during my regular training runs and it turned out that the route actually passed very close to where I live,  The weather gods  also benevolently decided to bless us with a cool morning, so it was a real pleasure to run past familiar places and scenes in gorgeous running weather. Overall, apart from some glitches on traffic management towards the end and an unfortunate fiasco earlier involving the lead runners, Bengaluru Marathon 2014 was an enjoyable experience. Hopefully, the event will grow to become one of the great city marathons, like the world majors.

Re-caping some highlights for the memory archive:

Finished with a PB of 4:05:58, 10 minutes better than my SCMM 2014 timing. Though I underestimated some of the elevations around the 26-30Km stretch, any race where you nail a PB is always a good one. This one was a fair result for the kind of training I had put in. Set me up to take a shot at a sub-4 SCMM in January 2015. Que sera, sera…

 

BM_Oct 19_ASC cheering1While the crowd turnout was not something to write about, there was a lovely surprise awaiting the marathoners at about the  halfway mark, after the 100ft road stretch in Indiranagar (the half marathoners U-turned back at Domlur, so they unfortunately missed out). As we came down the Domlur flyover  on to Inner ring road, was amazed to see hundreds of jawans from the adjoining ASC centre lined up on the road. For that entire stretch of over 3 kilometres (almost till Sony junction), these soldiers egged the runners on, clapping, hi-fiveing, calling out our names from the bibs with exhortations of ‘shabaash, himmat se’, etc.  It was an overwhelming, goosebumpy experience that got me all choked up, even as I tried to feebly appreciate their support.  Truly, a splendid gesture and a very special memory of this marathon.

BM_Oct 19 2014_2

 

The Bengaluru Marathon also set a shining example and a high benchmark on waste management. Thanks to a couple of runners and a fantastic group of volunteers who were all passionate about the cause, a very effective mechanism to BM_Oct 19_waste mgtmanage waste during and after the run was planned and executed with exemplary precision. Re-usable glasses/serving vessels, non-disposable plates, segregation of food waste post-run, getting NGOs involved.. A stupendous effort, and a stirring message for a city that is grappling with an acute problem of overflowing landfills, and fast turning from a garden city into a garbage city.

Link: How the first Bengaluru Marathon kept pace with its waste.

Many valuable lessons here for not just other marathon events, but also for the city corporation. Kudos and hats off to everyone involved in this effort.

 

This marathon also put me in touch with some new running partners when I started running with the ‘Indiranagar Runners’ group.  Our long training runs on weekends kept both the motivation and fun levels consistently up. I believe that runners in general have an in-built ‘goodness-gene’ – they are nicer folks than the average guy on the street. And this group has definitely vindicated my belief. Its been great to get to know and run with a happy, fun loving bunch of runners and also genuinely nice people.

IR_breakfast

Cheers, guys..I look forward to many many more fun runs, sumptuous breakfasts, and wonderful times together. Thanks for being there!

Categories: Marathon, Running Tags:

Rant: Runners and Others

December 3, 2014 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, there was a thread on the Bangalore Runners Facebook page about an issue that’s on every runner’s mind when they lace their shoes and set out for a run in our part of the world – street DOGS. Someone posted on the forum asking for suggestions on how to deal with the situation when a dog doesn’t take too kindly to a runner passing by. All runners have faced this at some time or the other, anyone who runs in this city will definitely relate to this issue. Given traffic conditions and work schedules, runners prefer to do training runs in the wee hours of the morning. While we happily trade off waking up to unearthly morning alarms with the prospect of running on traffic-free roads, the flipside is that this is also the hour when our canine friends are surprised by any human activity. They tend to be wary of anyone who’s seen as even a mild threat to their territorial hegemony (exacerbated by the fact that most of these fast approaching trespassers are also clad in fluorescent neon clothing and footwear).

While many single dogs are (in my experience) usually dis-interested, packs can get very terrifying. I had first-hand experience on a winter morning last year on how bad this can be, on Martoli road near the old airport runway. A group of 4-5 dogs didn’t like me disturbing their small talk, and started to bark/growl, then resorted to chasing and then finally began snapping at my heels. All that I had read and heard about how to react in these situations – don’t panic, don’t stare directly into their eyes, slow down, walk calmly, etc. – immediately went out of the window. Terror-stricken, for what was by far the longest minute or so of my life, I literally started sprinting and frantically looking back at the same time, shouting, even growling back at them. Of course, this made an already bad situation even worse. Some of the more aggressive ones began to lunge at me. Luckily I was carrying a water bottle, and used it to fend them off, and was fortunate to have got away without getting bitten. The incident happened on the 27th km of a 30K long run that day. Though I was quite tired at that point, I probably ran the fastest couple of hundred metres I have ever run in my life. If they hadn’t lost interest in me, my lungs would have surely popped out. The Garmin Connect activity tracker reflected my state – my heart rate readings had surged way above max HR level for those few moments. It was an incredibly harrowing experience, one that I will never forget. I get the chills even now when I go past that spot.

Street dogs are a real and serious issue to contend with, if you are a runner. So the question which was posed on the forum was a very relevant one. Expectedly, advice soon started pouring in. Stop running when you spot a dog and walk till ‘the danger zone has passed’ said some, others claimed that these canines can sense your vibes, so just continue running normally. There were suggestions on taking precautions like a carrying a stick (or a water bottle) to shoo them off in case the situation becomes tense. So and so forth.

But what was striking about the whole discussion was that every response basically reflected one core, underlying principle: dogs have the same right to live in these spaces as we humans do, and their reaction is natural because we are the one who’s seen as the intruder and a threat. No one, not one runner, said anything negative about them.

I grew up mortally scared of even neighbourly pet dogs, but managed to overcome my fear and am reasonably comfortable around them now. But I know that there are many runners who carry a pathological fear, for whom it is genuinely very distressing when they see a dog in their path while they run. There have been runners who have had similar experiences as mine above, I have friends who have been bitten too. But it was amazing to note that no one in that discussion cursed the creatures, or proposed that BMC should take them away, they should be put down, etc. There were many pleas by responders imploring fellow runners to not throw stones at them. Someone asked about using high-frequency dog whistles, but got drowned by a chorus of responses on how this can damage their ears, etc.

This level of empathy towards a fellow species which competes for our urban spaces with runners, and poses a real threat to life and limb at times, was very revealing. To me, it’s illustrative of how the running community sees its place in the larger scheme of things, the world around us.

Now, for my rant.

Another topic has produced many agitated conversations in Bangalore of late, among a far larger section of the population than runners: the renovation of key roads in the city under the TENDER SURE project. To quote, the Tender Sure project is all about getting the urban road right; about addressing the issues that have made Indian roads so notorious for their chaotic traffic , potholes, broken footpaths, overflowing drainage, poorly placed power transformers and their hanging, spaghetti tangle of electrical wiring and telecom fixtures.

Sounds great, right? What’s the problem then?

This. (emphasis mine)

In the hierarchy of road users conceived under the project, pedestrians are followed by cyclists and public transport, which is acknowledged as the necessary mode of sustainable mobility, and lastly private vehicles.

Aha!

These last few weeks have witnessed long pieces in the press, frustrated water cooler conversations… all whining about how as part of the renovation, footpaths are being widened by a couple of feet, with cycling tracks built in. How idiotic, is the refrain…did you see what they have done to St. Marks! The city is already a traffic-mess….how can they screw it up even more, goes the cry in anguish.

Err, excuse me… it is people like us who have caused this mess in the first place. As this bunch of people pointed out so simply and effectively, our urban traffic chaos is largely a result of “the absurdity of using a large car to move a single person”. Getting a couple of extra feet-width on the road for motorists is not a solution at all, all it does is make a larger part of the road clogged with traffic.

cyclevscarspace

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars; it is a place where the rich use public transportation”- Gustavo Petro, Mayor of Bogota.”

Sadly, it loks like we will remain buried under our own ignorance and apathy towards making this city a better place. Politicians have now  got involved, and we all know how that usually turns out.

So dear whiners, may you  continue to be stuck for longer and longer hours in worser and worser traffic jams. That’s entirely your choice, and you’re entitled to it.

But atleast stop whining, yaar.

Obviously, there is no data on how many of those who are griping over this are also runners or cyclists. I would want to think that it’s an extremely low number, if at all. Of course, I realise that this is a gross generalisation to make. (This is a rant, after all. :) ). There are many friends I know who are not runners or cyclists, and believe in sustainable urban transport mechanisms. But overall, the narrow-mindedness of motorists in our city on this issue is appalling, to say the least.

Take a cue from the runners, folks. Sometimes, just sometimes, its good to look beyond our own noses, yes?.

End of rant.

 

 

 

Thoughts On Finding Fanny: Of Goa, Gabo And Guffaws

September 16, 2014 Leave a comment

Somewhere in the midst of watching Finding Fanny, I thought of Wes Anderson and his delightful The Grand Budapest Hotel. Both movies open with a narrator setting the context for what lies ahead. Here, it’s Angie (Deepika Padukone) describing a fictitious place in Goa  – Pocolim, as a “puppet-show as large as a village”. A reasonably interesting bunch of characters are then introduced, most of them slightly dysfunctional, setting the stage for a promising plot. Unfortunately, that’s where any similarity between the two movies ends (well, there is a common thread of a feline meeting a violent death, not sure whether that was coincidental or an intentional hat-tip).

Anderson lords over the quirky/whimsical genre of film-making, with an attention to detail, depth of characterisation, and deft touches that made TGBH such an engrossing masterpiece. In stark contrast, Homi Adajania, who made an impressive debut with Being Cyrus, disappoints with his latest effort.

The story revolves around Pocolim’s postmaster Ferdie (Naseeruddin Shah)’s search for the eponymous Fanny, the love of his life, forty six years after he let her slip away.  Angie orchestrates matters such that Rosie, her matronly mother-in-law with the ample behind (Dimple Kapadia), the local artist Don Pedro who lusts after Rosie as his muse (Pankaj Kapur), and Angie’s admirer from the past, the Bombay-returned Savio (Arjun Kapoor), are their fellow travellers on this quest. FF1

This basic premise of the five companions who band together for a road trip feels like a slightly contrived setup. Ok, Savio still pines for Angie and maybe can’t say no to her, but there’s no reason for Rosie to be there, except that she then becomes the bait to get Don Pedro into the scheme of things – and of course, he loans his car too. It’s almost like Adajania doesn’t care too much for details, he just wants to somehow bundle up his cast of characters for a madcap ride.

The overall attempt is to be drolly..and cool.. and deep and poignant too, but its badly hampered by the fact that the movie tries very hard to be all of these. (Exhibit 1 – The conversation between Angie and Savio about post-coitus rolling over and falling asleep).  There are scenes that fall straight in the realm of bad slapstick (Exhibit 2 –  the Don Pedro tea-biscuit scene). There is a longing for the Goa of yore and a veiled reference to how this once idyllic town is being taken over by the mafia (Exhibit 3 – Scene with the loony Russian).   At best, these kind of sequences elicit some forced guffaws. An extremely weak climax also doesn’t help at all – a clumsy attempt to tie things up at the end works at cross purposes with all that the film has tried to be till then.

It’s probably not a stretch to figure out where Adajania gets his inspiration from.  Angie’s backstory is that she was widowed on her wedding day – her caricature for a husband (Ranveer Singh in a fleeting cameo), chokes on the marzipan , but the real reveal is that his character is named Gabo. The imaginary village of Pocolim is very likely Adajania’s version of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Macondo.  Goa is beautifully shot in the film, and Pocolim, with its coconut palms, churches and bylanes evokes a nostalgic feel for a quaintly magical place. Like in Marquez’s novels, those who feature in Ferdie’s quest for love have their own imaginary world intertwined with the reality of their lives.

What I felt really let down by, is that Adjania had such a first-rate cast at his disposal. Naseer and Pankaj Kapur could have done these roles in their sleep – competent all right, but more clichéd than compelling.  Arjun Kapoor is still finding his way, has promise.

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Deepika Padukone is resplendently gorgeous, lighting up every frame with her presence . Dimple Kapadia seems to be having fun wiggling her bottom and delivering lines like ‘wine is not good for me because… it makes me spread my legs’, with panache.

So yes,  I get that this is not a movie with a story line,  is more a metaphor for life, about how we are all lost in our solitude, etc.  But its a bit all over the place, and loses its way often. A lot of the dialogue has a Konkani lilt (I ‘toh’ felt, etc)  , which is good.. but in between, Angie also comes up with a  “return of the prodigal son” kind of line which feels oddly out of place in that particular conversation.

The characters are half-baked, we don’t feel for them like we should. At least I didn’t.

Finding Fanny, for me, felt like a recipe which has mouth-watering ingredients, which fail to come together as a dish that you can savour.

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