Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dasaavatharam - Heeeeeeeeeeeellllllllpppppppp S.O.S

Once upon a time, not so long ago, in the feud of the superstars of the South, one Mr. Rajnikant made a movie called Sivaji. This was an out and out masala movie, received extremely well by audiences the world over. So, our other Mr. Movie star had to make another movie to prove he was better – or wadever! So he walked up to Mr. K S Ravikumar – a director, who is better known to have directed movies like Padayappa and Muthu, all huge BO successes – and using all his might (a lot of which can also be seen on screen, as he splits at his seams – someone tell Mr. Kamal Haasan to go to the gym!) – said, “Dude, I want a movie made for me.”

So the meek director says, “y…y…yessir.. b..b..but…. s..sss…story… ssssir?”
“Oh hell, does it matter? I need to be in every frame. That is it! Give it some nice historic name… Shivaji… oh na na… that is taken… how is Haider Ali? Nah, then I cannot have a string of women around…. So no… umm… mythological…. Adonis? Well… that is too much of a giveaway, (sniggling to himself ). No… Dasaavatharam!! Yes!!! 10 roles! Great….. Get on with it now…”

“Y… Y…Yessir.”

This is how the magnum FLOPus Dasaavatharam, it appears, was made. (At least that is the only logical explanation to this highly illogical torture.

Now, many people have trashed this movie. No doubt. Everyone has been expecting something out of the world from this movie, because the last time Kamal Haasan made a movie with more than 2 roles, the movie was a runaway laugh riot (remember Michael Madana Kama Rajan?). 4 roles – awesome movie. 10 roles – you do the math. That was the logic.

But unfortunately, this movie has been made with the express interest of being added to the actor’s resume. Why? 20 years down the line, if he is remembered while his statue is being unveiled, the people can count this movie as being one where he has displayed his acting prowess, by starring in a bizarre piece of so-called creative cinema. But hey – why grate on our nerves to add on to your resume? Plus, the only thing true in the above line is ‘bizarre’!

So why is this movie so faaltoo? (sorry for being so blunt, but we never trashed haal-e-dil, because we never knew it had already been released! Has it?? Hell, who’s bothered?!!) Anyway, the plot – basically revolves around the travails of a troubled Indian scientist, a victim of different circumstances, as he desperately chases a vial of the most deadly virus to date– a product of synthetic biochemistry. The movie begins with a scene depicting a 12th century fight between Shivites and Vasihnavites. ‘What on earth is the relation to the plot’, you ask? Hey remember, we need 10 roles? Our friend had been back-role-creating (as in backward integration), and he thought all those who like mythological movies, may come to see that aspect! And, he now has to worry about only 9 more roles – Tadaaaa.

Ok so where does the plot start? Our protagonist is a scientist in USA. He begins by realizing the head honchos of his team have sold their consciences to the terrorists, and as usual, he is the one man army who needs to recover the vial. So, a friend by mistake sends the vial (now if the virus was so deadly, why was it callously tossed into the back seat?), by courier to India. So he somehow sneaks into the hold of a cargo plane and lands mysteriously in Chennai airport.

So 2 roles dikhe.

Now we need 8 more. So what do we do? Hey we need a bad guy. Who should you call??? ‘Kamal haasan’ (To be sung in the Ghost busters tune please. All his faces look like ghosts anyway.) So the villain of the movie Mr. Christian Fletcher, who seems to have landed from Krypton - because just like Superman, he never seems to get hurt, even if hit a billion times, or if he jumps off a tall building - is also……. Yeappp Kamal Haasan.

3 down 7 to go.

Protagonist (lets call him P) lands in India, and he is taken for questioning. Now every chor needs a pulees right? Again….. no prizes for guessing. Pulees is Kamal again, in a dorky getup.

6 more, guys… that’s all.

So how do we create more roles? Ok the recipient of the courier containing the vial is an old granny (highly annoying old woman), who, again is… I am not completing the sentence. Our dumb old granny decides to submit the vial to the Lord, and this she does by deftly walking over half a dozen shoulders (hey grandma could also have been from Krypton!) and kerplunk…. Into the Lord’s Idol goes the vial. And by now, I have lost my patience.

Oh did I mention the fact that Mallika Sherawat is in the movie too? She is just made to play the role of the moll, and nothing else, and she is bumped off pretty early on. So… go figure! A highly irritating, dumb, mad, annoying Asin grates on your nerves as she goes screaming, ranting, bellowing, shrieking – you get it right? So much for the female saviors of the movie.

Oh I forgot, we are just at panchavtar!! What about the rest? So also thought the director. So what did he decide to do? Well, give the scientist a turncoat friend, and make his wife a Japanese. Tadaaa we have a Karate master who wants to avenge his student’s death – role number 6!

Neeext – A huge Muslim guy who apparently is encountered in a freak accident between his vehicle and that of P. Role – nothing or should I say role number 7.

Oh then we have a Sardarji singer, who again has no role, save for being role number 8. He did look a lot like Gulshan Grover though!

Two more roles, two more roles!! Ok pick up an issue in Tamil Nadu - Sale of river sands - and give that issue an activist and you have role number…. 9!!! Relevance to the plot at hand? Oh shut up! Don’t ask stupid questions.

The final role – the icing on the cake – none other than oh yeah – Dubyaman!!! Old man Bush is role number 10! And of course, how can anyone resist taking pot shots at the US Prez? Yeah, so they show him as someone who doesn’t know that NaCl is common salt! NoComments!

I must say – Bush, the Sardarji, the tall Muslim guy, the villain – Fletcher and the Supergranny – all look the same – like ghosts or aliens or whatever you wanna call em!

The weirdest thing is that in all of these 10 roles, no one is the hero, and no one is the villain? Surprised? Dumbstruck? Of course man! The hero and the villain are both ‘circumstances beyond your control’. P just makes an attempt at following the vial wherever ‘circumstance’ (lets call it circy) takes it. So Circy is the villain here. And then finally a Tsunami apparently saves the day. How???? Hey don’t say I am mad. Did you know that the virus could have killed all of Tamil Nadu? Tsunami killed only a few thousands. It’s all relative mate, right Mr. Einstein?? So here Circy is the hero! Get it??? And the real domescrew is where our meek director performs a charged up, enthusiastic dance at the end of the movie praising the protagonist. Why? I don't know... If you figure it out, please lemme know.....

Sometime in the early 60s, the then superstar Sivaji Ganesan acted in a movie called Navaratri. Here he portrayed 9 roles. One of a leper, one of a doctor, one of a thief and so on. The story traces the journey of a woman from the first day of Navaratri to the 9th, as she encounters a different character each day. Compare that with Dasaavatharam. Need I say more? Mr. Kamal Haasan, you can’t be said to portray 10 roles by playing all the roles in a movie. If that were the case, what if Amitabh Bachchan had played all the roles in Satte Pe Satta including his double role, his six brothers, Amjad Khan and Hema Malini? We could also have had Dashavtar!!! But we in Bollywood would have preferred to call it ‘cost-cutting’ instead. Was this the motive? Hmmmm food for thought – what with inflation, food crisis and so on. Highly commendable. One last comparison. MI:2 also dealt with a stolen virus – Chimera. But I must say that movie was more tastefully taken, less over the top, highly interesting (in comparison, highly is an understatement), and Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt was a billion times better. Annnnnd the plot had a clearly defined hero and villain. Not Circy.

All in all, this movie was a waste of time, money, energy. And all you ardent fans, who remember Kamal best as Nayagan, or the quadruplet in Michael Madana Kama Rajan, DON’T SEE THIS, OR THE REMAINING RESPECT FOR HIS ART WILL BE LOST.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

My 2 virtual trysts with Islamic terrorism

What do the book ‘The Afghan’ and the movie ‘Aamir’ have in common? Islamic terrorism as a backdrop. What do they not have in common? Sorry for being blunt, but the sheer substance of both plots. Since I had the chance of encountering both over the past week, I just thought I’d share my two-pence-worth thoughts.

Let us start with the Afghan. The plot, as is always the case, revolves around an AQ threat to the US. All the allied intelligence forces of the US and the UK have as evidence are, a laptop belonging to a financial wizard belonging to the higher echelons of the AQ and a rather ambiguous phrase ‘Al-Isra’, that literally translates to the mythical journey from earth to Allah undertaken by Prophet Muhammed. It is up to the ‘smart’ guys of the CIA and MI5 to try to figure out what major catastrophe awaits the US or the UK or some other part of the world.

The solution, they soon realize, is to send a Para brought up in Iraq into the proverbial ‘inner circle’. What happens thereafter is the story. Or at least that is what the build-up of the story betrayed.

Unfortunately, as happens with all major projects, the distance between the goal and the end result is too much. Although the terror plot as professed to have been hatched by the AQ looks truly formidable, the whole story which is supposed to trace how the Intelligence forces of the world uncover this deadly plot, just seems to pull on, describing inch by inch the mountainous terrain of the Tora Bora! Secondly, no achievements of the deadly/feared Afghan, as he is many-a-time referred to, which in turn give him the epithet are described. Other than being a true son of the soil, and displaying true Pashtun characteristics of being a daredevil, brave-heart fighter, typical characteristics which unfortunately do not warrant a real reverence from the side of the AQ, no other great behavioral or leadership milestones are described. Alright, so he is accepted as one of the clan for some reason not known to us. But then he is directly sent by Osama himself to be a part of their most shocking event to date. Why? Because of an old rendezvous in a cave wherein the then 14 year old Afghan had clumsily mumbled that he wanted to fight for Allah! Oh well, Go figure!!! Alright!!!! So he is sent to the most ambitious AQ attack to date. And what does he do there? Acts like a silent observer. As if he has been put into the book, just because they need a firangi protagonist! All in all, everything happens like clockwork. All pieces fall into place as if the whole plot – both sides – have been orchestrated by the intelligence forces. And, surprisingly no former friends of the Afghan, including his inmates at Gitmo, who ironically had ratified the Afghan’s story try to make contact with the Afghan, even by chance. Plus, you seem to discern the actual plot pretty early in the story.

So the high points – Highly picturesque descriptions of Afghanistan and Waziristan which have more than amplified my desire to go look at these beautiful geographical blessings of nature and a truly formidable, deadly idea of the AQ.

This puts in mind another book on terrorism that I read a few months ago – The Bourne Betrayal. The plot – very well conceived, embedding a personal vendetta into the greater milieu of terrorism. The modus operandi – a tad fantastic – a la Face/Off. The suspense – brilliant. The protagonist’s operation – very believable. He does not have situations and opportune events presented to him on a platter. So, the resulting book is quite interesting, fast-paced and a real page turner all the way.

Now we go to the second topic – the movie called Aamir. The plot – simple yet believable. A Muslim doctor lands from the UK and is shocked to realize that there is no one there to pick him up outside the airport. He is given a cell phone, where an faceless voice tells him what to do. He is told that his family has been kidnapped and he needs to follow the instructions in order to see them alive. The viewer then travels with Aamir through his day tying to figure out the labyrinthine plot that the villain has in mind. As said before, the plot is plain simple.

The magic lies in the way the movie has been taken. Indian media has been rather vocal about the way in which the movie was taken, using hidden cameras to provide the ‘realism’, so to say. And I am afraid the ploy has delivered. Over and above imparting a real feel to the goings on, you view the movie as if you are a by-stander watching Aamir as he follows the guidelines provided by the caller. A second high point is the characterization of the protagonist. He is an average middle class youth, who is keen on carving a niche for himself in his life and supporting his younger siblings. This is a true projection of the urban youth of today, who play no part in the fundamentalist manifestations of the terrorists of today, but that of the hapless victim. So you can actually experience his vexation at being the chosen one, his frustration at not being able to understand why things happen the way they happen and also his vacillation as the plot draws to a close, wherein he is torn between his personal loss and a humanitarian loss. Finally, one must applaud the acting capabilities of the lead actor – Rajeev Khandelwal. He has definitely entered the skin of the character and portrayed the complex emotions, with aplomb. Not a mean achievement for a first movie.

So although a simple premise, the juxtaposition of the plot, the characterization and the acting capabilities of the protagonist make this movie a must-see.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Beware of India..........

Don’t you dare to come to India man, we leave manholes open, all in order to catch the unsuspecting tourist. And did you know? In the monsoons, sharks from the Arabian sea come out to the land, via the gaping manholes. We let out king cobras and other deadly animals and allow them free movement on public roads.

Ok, maybe last part was stretching things too far. But as a person living in Mumbai, I must say that the directive issued by the US government is extreme to say the least. India is a civilized nation, where a greater part of the metropolitan population is literate and can communicate in English, rather fluently as well! So many people have an idea of India being a land of tigers and snake charmers. But sorry to shatter your dreams guys, India is a country with a variegated culture, but whose basic civilization has been wrested away from tribalism.

Much as I may like to keep glorifying ourselves and how wonderful we are as a country, I must accept that there are some failings on our part as well. Don’t they say that the first step in solving a problem is to first accept the fact that the problem exists? Why don’t we all, before pulling out our guns against the people issuing such directives, look at ourselves, and how we project ourselves?

First, Indians as a class are perceived as being people lacking a general civic sense. I wouldn’t deny it, since we see spit laden railway tracks, roads, walls. The motto seems to be - have surface, will spit. If someone behaves in such a manner in his own country, what can you expect them to do outside? There has been an instance wherein someone who boarded a flight at Riyadh in the most civilized manner, lands in Mumbai and the first thing he does is spit on the tarmac here. No point blaming him. Maybe its in the air!!! And the saddest things is that if we, as aware, educated citizens were to try and reason out with such people, we would stand to be ridiculed, spoken to in a brazen, crude manner, which we as genteel citizens might not be able to digest. There is a saying in Hindi ‘Laaton ke bhoot Baaton se nahin maante’ meaning it is futile to reason through words with people who only understand the language of the rod. So, when such simple words fail to elicit the desired response, why can’t we have laws that prohibit such people from defiling their environment? Lashings or hefty fines a la Singapore?

You are what you project yourself to be. Indians are perceived to be boisterous, uncouth free loaders. How many of us have not seen Indian flyers (first time or otherwise) getting drunk on a plane, begging, commanding the air hostesses, who are bound by duty to be polite, to get them more booze? So when a plane full of people sees this, what an image of India do they carry with them? There was once this instance of a person traveling from Germany, and he seemed to be relating his complete life story to his co passengers, who were desperately trying to sleep. He was loud, crude and his behavior was very unbecoming. All through the 7 hour flight, believe me, he kept talking, inebriated thanks to the cartload of free booze he kept asking for. He asked his co passengers not less than 5 times for their contact details in India, although they clearly were not interested. Now those Europeans were rather decent and they merely dismissed his behavior as immaturity, I guess. But such behavior was being witnessed by a whole crowd of people in the plane. As an Indian, in spite of knowing that some Indians can be rather quirky in their manner of behaving, my immediate mental reaction was ‘BACK OFF MAN’…. I also know that Indians are not so clingy by nature. But people seeing such behavior first hand, and not knowing what they are to expect will assume that Indians as a class are the ‘Peeche padoo types ’ as we say in Mumbai Hindi. People reading this may think I am a person who is completely anti-Indian. But no. I just find the whole manner of behavior appalling! Some may say that Indians have grown prosperous too fast. The graduation from the three-tier sleeper to the economy class of an airplane has been precipitously fast. Therefore, the practices of striking up conversations with the people next to you in the train, sharing food, being loud in the train on account of background train noise, seem to have perpetuated into their new mode of travel as well. The picture alongside has been taken in the waiting lounge of Bangkok airport, where we were waiting for the flight bound for India. In that case, why don’t we have an etiquette session for people somewhere? I mean rural Indian population still does not undertake overseas travel. It is the urban population with sufficient media exposure -enough to tell them about the newest English flick running in theatres, or the names of Angelina Jolie’s rainbow children – who undertake such trips. So whether their behavior stems from new-found money and lack of exposure or an underlying sense of defiance and abrasiveness, is a question we need to sit back and think about and hopefully find an answer to.

In all such behavior, our Government doesn’t seem to lend a helping hand either. How do we advertise tourism here? I speak from personal experience. On the onward leg of my journey to Bangkok, there was an in-flight video talking about ‘Beautiful Bangkok’. The Buddha temples, the elephant rides, pristine beaches and the like. In stark contrast, my return trip featured an in-flight video discussing tourism in Nagaland in HINDI….. Now how many prospective tourists would know Hindi? And the ones in the plane who know Hindi don’t need a Nagaland ki Jhaanki!!! Plus, the video shows the life of one poverty stricken poor inhabitant of Nagaland, his awe at the sight of a train, how he herds cows and sheep. Just what was the point they wanted to convey here?????? Let us sit back and think, just how tourist-friendly are we? If a tourist were to come to Bandra station, would he know how to get to Churchgate? Do we have any train map available at all stations a la London or Tokyo or NY or Toronto? The answer is a resounding NO. Do we have tourist guiding booths outside key tourist spots? NO. As an inhabitant of Mumbai, I myself do not know all the lovely places to see here! They say that there is a tourism office in some corner of Churchgate… Oh yea? I didn’t know and I have lived in Mumbai since sooooo many years!

What kind of India are our authors portraying? A country riddled with poverty, flies, muck, and the morbid suffering therein. Oh yea, I am interested in visiting Somalia as a tourist! Don’t chide me, such writings may earn critical acclaim. But what does it do to the image of India? Let us ask these authors, whether this is the true India where they live? As a fellow Indian, do you not feel that by portraying India to be the proverbial – ‘poor, third world country’, you are pandering to the developed world’s rather morbid wish to see suffering in all other nations but their own? Doesn’t this qualify as cheap publicity? Whatever happened to Mumbai being one of the safest cities in the world, why not portray that? What about projecting the culture of Rajasthan or the North eastern states? How aware are people about the culture of India? People outside India, when asked about our country, generally know the Taj Mahal. They believe that Diwali is a celebration of the Taj! Well, this is not an exaggeration, a person in Canada actually made this statement!

India is rising, growing like never before. We are becoming citizens of the world, and the whole global population is beginning to sit up and take notice. In states like Rajasthan and also the North eastern states, where tourism is the main source of income, why can’t our tourism department actually start looking into these matters more seriously? Instead of worrying about cheap local politics that are worse than those portrayed on the regressive Indian television, why don’t we as a nation, led by our government, concentrate on taking India to the world? So open manholes may not be true. But unless we show the world that we are not a bucolic country, vacation photos of tourists visiting India will continue to be those of a cow in the middle of a road in Mumbai city or of weeping children sitting homeless in the rain.