Archive for August, 2008

Ram Gopal Verma has been losing his touch recently. Following the flops that were Aag and Nishabd, wWe now have the mother of all flops in Phoonk. Even RGV’s trademark slick editing was missing here.

It’s been awhile since I saw a film this bad, and I thought I’d use the film to write about 10 things that every director must NEVER do while making a horror film.

PLEASE DON’T

  1. Forget that you are making a horror film, not a comedy.
  2. Direct your actors to pretend to act. Direct them to act. Alternatively, you could also select your cast to include good performers.
  3. Neglect the script. No script, no film.
  4. Drag the story. Remember that you’re trying to be Spielberg (or even Scorcese), and not Bergman. So, when your film drags, you need to get on the editing table/
  5. Get confused over whether your basic premise is exorcism or vodoo. You can’t have both working simultaneously on a character within the film.
  6. Show a driver salivating over a maid in the house in the middle of the night and then just forget about it. Your narrative needs to tell us about what happens next.
  7. Keep zooming in on all the inanimate statues in the house if it’s not connected to the story.
  8. Assume that weird laughter is scary. Sometimes, the normal can be more sinister.
  9. Take the ‘background’ in background music too seriously. It hums through the fear quotient in your film.
  10. Take bits from multiple Hollywood productions, make a bad mish mash and call it a new film.
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The other day I was watching Barack Obama’s acceptance speech of the Democratic party nomination and John McCain’s announcement of Sarah Palen as his running mate.

It was so great to watch the audience chanting “America, America” all the way, as if it truly still meant something.

And especially during Barack Obama’s acceptance speech, sitting here in India, I couldn’t help wondering, what if…

  • My name was still Christina Daniels.
  • I was born to a father who was an American Christian missionary – for the sake of convenience, let’s call him Joe Daniels.
  • He met my mother Lakshmi Ramachandran (a liberal freethinking Indian) at JNU.
  • I was born with glorious blonde hair, brilliant blue eyes and a peach complexion – like my father.
  • I was raised in America, Japan and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands (by my grandmother).
  • During this time and for the rest of her life, my mother continued to live in Japan with her second husband, who was Japanese.
  • My father returned to the USA.
  • I learnt to speak Hindi as spoken in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands… And was also a practicing Hindu (This one is just for convenience in my later argument. Technically speaking, India is a secular country).
  • My father of course remained an evangelizing American Christian missionary.
  • I was later educated at St Stephens in Delhi, and I passed out of the university with flying colours.
  • I then chose to enter politics.

With a complete absence of political lineage, would I be able to rise from the ranks of the Congress to be accepted as the party’s choice for Prime Minister over the wife/daughter of an extremely successful ex Prime Minister?

Then, if I were to run for an election campaign opposite Mr LK Advani, would the BJP and upper middle class/middle class India ever accept me (Christina Daniels of the blonde hair, blue eyes and evangelizing Christian missionary father, multiple parents and identities) as being truly Indian?

Would Mr LK Advani ever issue a public advertisement congratulating me on a historic moment in my nation’s history once I was announced as the Congress’ choice for Prime Minister? Or would the BJP be allowed to proceed unchecked as they launched a loud aggressive denigrating objection to my Indianess at every point of their election campaign?

Would it matter that I saw myself as being irrevocably Indian?

Well, you don’t have to answer those questions… I’m not sure if I’m ready to hear the answers 🙂 But, just think about it…

With the Independence Day giving us a long weekend, a group of friends and I decided to take the rest of the week off and travel. Our destination was the Corbet National Park and Uttaranchal. (That also explains why I have been away for awhile.)

After a brief stop over at Delhi, our gang of girls were soon on our way to Corbett.

Enroute to Corbett
The drive from Delhi to Ramnagar takes you through Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal (now Uttarkhand) and the heart of small town North India.

Under the stifling windless heat of a dry monsoon day, we drove through intense traffic jams (that put Bangalore to shame) over dusty potholed roads that carried us over one ramshackle township after another.

Thanks to the monsoons, the path was also dotted with lush green fields along the way.

Yet, I couldn’t help thinking that there is nothing romantic or beautiful about poverty… And whither India shining???

In the midst of all of that, it was also fascinating to watch the evolution of India’s convoluted love affair with the English language. As we passed a village in Uttar Pradesh, where every shop had boards in Hindi, I noticed “The Good Fashion Shop” and the “Photo Stat Shop” …all written in Hindi 🙂

It didn’t stop there. On our way back, there was the invitation to learn English from Britain’s No 1 institute on a giant sized billboard. Once more, the slightly incongruous invitation was made in Hindi.

Also, along the way, was a glimpse of the Ganga flowing in majesty. Far away from the pollution of Varanasi, she remains a truly beautiful river. Powerful, yet serene.

I almost sensed the magnificent power and beauty that brought the ancients to their knees in mute reverence.

If only we could protect her from annihilation…

Corbett
The Corbett National Park is located off the sleepy little of Ramnagar, an eight hours drive away from Delhi. The interesting part about this reserve is that it’s named after Jim Corbett – not a conservationist, but a gentleman best known for exploits where he hunted the tiger.

We drove down to our resort, the Corbett Hideout, located at the outskirts of the forest. Standing off the banks of the River Kosi, it was built into the forest and had the ambience of an ancient British hunting lodge, giving me plenty of opportunity for some black & white photography.

The plan for our trip went like this…
Day 1 – Chill out time
Day 2 – The Safari, exploring the town
Day 3 – Nainital

So on Day 2, we were up at 3 am for our 5 am safari. As we got ready, there was the first evidence of a drizzle.

Oh no! Were we going to get rained out??? We called up the reception desk hurriedly. But, we were reassured, “Madam, baarish itna bhi to nahi ho raha hai”.

So, with a slight drizzle in the air, we set out at 5:30 am. We stopped at the Forest Officer’s office to pick up our guide, and we were then off. There were no “do’s and don’ts” in the wilds or anything like that… And on the whole, I came away from the experience with the impression that conservation was taken more seriously in South India.

Village hamlet followed village hamlet, and then we entered the forest. Dawn was still early, and the earth had the freshness of a lady who had reveled in a gurgling stream of fresh water, and then shaken the water off her hair.

Against the backdrop of the Himalayas, the sanctuary rolled out ahead of us in lush green abundance. While we did not see a tiger, different kinds of deer, wild birds and peacocks were in abundance.

The peacocks were particularly eye catching, strutting on branches strewn amidst the rich green of the forest.

The path was often broken with rivers in spate, and only a sturdy jeep like ours could make it through.

As we looked at deer congregated at a distant water hole, for an instant it seemed like we were at the centre of the universe, and earth, water and sky met before us in the horizon.

It’s true that if you are in Corbett to spot a tiger, the best time to visit is during the summer. But, if you’d just like to simply experience the spectacular beauty of the terrain, there is no season like the monsoons.

Ramnagar
Since the time when Jim Corbett went hunting in this region, the town of Ramnagar has always existed.

With its location on the banks of the River Kosi, nestled amidst the hills, it is dotted with an abundance of nooks and corners of spectacular beauty. Yet, even as the Corbett National Park has grown in fame, development stands still at Ramnagar.

Worse still, people don’t seem to be thinking about entrepreneurship and commerce. The entire town had only two shops that had a very limited supply of Corbett curios!!!

Yet, as we left for Delhi on August 15th, we saw groups of school kids in procession chanting something as they walked through their town’s lanes and by lanes.

It’s then that we remembered that it was Independence Day.

We’d forgotten. But, they hadn’t. It’s true. The true heart of India lies in her villages.

Nainital
My first impression of Nainital was that of a typical North Indian hill station town. There were the typical narrow sloping roads, names of School that sounded like they were out of Enid Blyton and a Mall Road that had all the shops.

But Nainital also has a distinctive feature – its lakes. The Naini Lake, in particular, stands out. It springs up into view as soon as one enters the town, framed on one side by the Mall Road. On the other side, it edges into the green mountains, etching a stunning beautiful outline against the sky.

Also, unlike more popular hill stations like Mussoorie, Nainital still has to be devastated by tourists. So here, at the Kumaon foothills, it’s still possible for the traveller to experience the beauty of the beginning of the outer Himalayas.

Delhi
Delhi was the place where we chilled out – before and after our travels. So we made our way into many narrow little gallis, shopping for pickles, sweets, wollens and chaat.

The interesting part of these shopping visits was to see how Delhi culture was now considered to be equivalent to Punjabi culture. The distinction that one had seen on earlier trips – where Delhi was a city of multiple cultures – had merged.

We also managed to catch Bachna Ae Haseeno at one of Delhi’s more recently developed malls. The strange about malls is that whether it’s Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore or Ahmedabad…all malls have an identical, almost factory manufactured experience. For some reason, all malls seem to be eyesores, with an inability to reflect the distinctive flavours of a city.

This time round, I also decided to do some photography in Delhi. So with the morning still young, I set out to photograph Qutub Minar and India Gate.

While I’ve visited both the structures as a tourist on multiple occasions in the past, I had never photographed them before. As I focused my lens on them for the first time, I truly experienced the beauty of the artist’s craftsmanship on sandstone.

And seen under the first light of dawn, on a misty Delhi morning, it’s out of this world.

Special mention
This trip would be incomplete without a special mention of our diver Vakil. Originally from Mathura, he combined the simplicity of small town India with the street smart aggressiveness demanded by big city Delhi.

He drove with the sole intention of breaking every other car in sight, often on the wrong side of the road. And in the one instance, where he succeeded in getting another car to ram into us. He emerged from the car, like a true Dilliwala, to beat the living daylights out of his fellow driver.

Vakil also had the interesting habit of fishing out a 500 rupee note a every toll gate (though he had plenty of change in his pocket). Daunted by the task of finding change on a busy day, the official at the toll gate invariably let him pass without a fee!

Yet, he was also the only one amongst us to stop and enter a wayside temple. He could also be trusted to be extremely punctual and to get us everywhere.

Vakil… An interesting study on how Delhi (or any big city) can take the Mathura out of you 🙂

More pics from the trips are here

The Dark Knight

Posted: August 10, 2008 in Cinema
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Reams and reams have been written about The Dark Knight… I watched the film to find that a lot of what has been written is true.

The Dark Knight is truly one of the most watchable superhero films in recent times. So, if you haven’t already watched the film, get yourself a copy of the DVD.

It’s also true that Heath Ledger does not play the Joker. He is the Joker. I believe to have lived a life simply to play the roles that he played in Casanova, Brokeback Mountain and The Dark Knight is a good enough reason to have lived.

Having said that, if you are a Jack Nicholson fan, you would still come out of the theatre believing that he made a better Joker… Manoj and I did. But, Heath Ledger is still good…really good.

Another, very distinctive quality of this film is its brooding darkness and magnification of the grotesque. This means that The Dark Knight is a film for adults or young adults. It’s not the He Man kind of flick that you can take your eight-year-old kid to.

The Dark Knight is a more intense, complex film. While retaining its deep roots to Batman mythology and legend, it adds to this many layers. Without the cliches that go with a standard Hollywood horror flick, this film is a glimpse into the heart of evil. Fantastic, and yet real.

Aaja Nachle

Posted: August 9, 2008 in Cinema
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I picked up this film sometime in the last week when I was feeling down. I just wanted a film that I could sit back and watch without thinking too much. In this respect at least, Aaja Nachle did not disappoint me.

Prior to the release, I had been extremely curious about this film. It’s been directed by Anil Mehta, the cinematographer of Hum Dil De Chuke Hain Sanam and Lagaan. As it happens, I have great regard for Anil’s work.

Now, having seen the film, if I were to sum it up in a sentence, I would say…like many average Hindi cinema productions – nothing exceptional, nothing spectacular… Yet, with moments of laughter and pathos. It’s clearly a film for small town India.

So why did this very average production fail in small towns, where other equally average Bollywood productions have succeeded?

I found myself in an interesting discussion with NG & M on this very question over a cup of tea this evening.

Here are some of the things that we could think of…
1. Unlike other films that tell the story of teams coming together to turn the tide (read Lagaan and Chak De India), Aaja Nachle did not invoke the twin mantra of patriotism or national pride.
2. A woman protagonist just would not work in small town India (and on second thoughts, neither would a chick flick).
3. Not enough romance.
4. There was not enough of Madhuri the dancer… And so Madhuri’s traditional hooting “Gandhi class” audience felt cheated of their ek do teen girl

From a production perspective, the second part of the film could have been helped with tighter editing. Finally, in retrospect, the film could also have been marketed better.

Yet, I find that I continue to look forward to more productions from Anil Mehta. Aaja Nachle still scores highly for me at the concept level. Anil has got his blending of laughter and tears right as well.

All that is lacking is an understanding of the required ingredients for commercial success in Bollywood.

With fresh concepts and the ability to blend pathos into a film already coming together effectively in Anil’s work, I believe that it’s only a question of time before he packs in the right ingredients as well.