Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Year of the DVD

It's safe to say that Hindi movies this year did not bring it all back home in 2008. After a triumphant 2007, with Chak De and Taare Zameen Par challenging one’s idea of a Bollywood movie, and Manorama and No Smoking pushing the envelope, 2008 had fewer epiphanies. Rock On was surprisingly thoughtful, Mithya turned out to be surprisingly serious. Oye Lucky and Dasvidniyan delighted towards the end of the year, Wednesday promised much but really delivered only ten minutes of truly memorable cinema. As for the rest, no better epitaph than the opening monologue in Mean Streets, “The rest is bullshit and you know it”.

However, not far from the theatres, in music stores and malls, in Planet M's and Music World's and smaller, more nondescript stores, a quiet revolution had started. 2008 may just be remembered as the year when the DVD revolutionized film viewing in India. It started with a trickle. Moserbaer had already brought CD prices down, it would now collaborate with Palador to hoist standards up. The Palador library saw its first releases on DVD. Delhiites saw, doubtless for the first time in a normal above-ground store, titles like Breathless, Seven Samurai and Wild Strawberries. More were to arrive soon – films by Jarmusch, Melville, Fellini. Difficult-to-find titles, even for someone familiar with the creepy underworld subculture of Palika Bazaar, were released – Kieslowski’s No End, Godard’s second feature, The Little Soldier, and the original Godzilla, in all its low-fi camp glory.

Palador was soon joined by NDTV Lumiere, whose initial focus seemed to centre around modern-day directors like Fatih Akin and Nuri Ceylan. Recently however, their portfolio has been balanced out by the release of stunners like Playtime by Jacques Tati, and 8 and a half by Fellini. With December also seeing the release of Melville’s long-unavailable, much acclaimed Army of Shadows on Palador, there seems to be, at least for the time being, enough of a market for these movie houses to sustain themselves.

The average movie watcher – whose movie diet includes a bit of Bollywood, a bit of Hollywood, maybe a few viewings of The Godfather – will probably be moved to ask “What’s the big deal?” But it is a huge deal – and any world cinema fan, classic movie buff, or serious collector would be at pains to explain why. It just wasn’t possible to get these titles before in Delhi stores. If you really wanted them you either had to order them off the net (too expensive) or get a pirated version (soul-scarring for the collector, and running a high risk of bad quality). Now in stores at around Rs. 400 a title (Rs. 500 in the case of Lumiere DVDs), they may still seem slightly on the expensive side. But they are a lot more affordable than they were before, and if my distant memories of honours economics serves me right, the scarcer the commodity, the higher the price.

Even if your taste is for more mainstream fare, it was a pretty good year. The rest of the market reacted to Mosebaer’s bottom-of-the-barrel pricing and offered more schemes and discounts then any year in recent memory. There were re-issues of classic Holywood and Bollywood movies. Regional movies became more easily available. Box sets abounded. 5 classic Guru Dutt movies for Rs. 250! Steambill Bill Jr for a 150 bucks!

A good year. A very good year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

"We are not we": Scene 26, Opening Night

"I am not me. I used to be me. I'm not me anymore"
- Myrtle in 'Opening Night'

The final scene of John Cassavetes’ Opening Night is the most thematically complex, and at the same time, one of the most exhilarating passages ever committed to film. It’s the final surprise in a movie in which the characters are so stubborn that you expect them to abandon the movie midway. And in essence, that is what Gena Rowland’s ageing stage diva does. Halfway through the movie, sick of having act to in a play which makes her confront her dwindling beauty by playing a menopausal second wife, she refuses to act. Instead she deviates from the script in every way she can think of – changing the script around to suit her own mental state, ad-libbing, playing to the gallery. This non-acting is an act of great cinematic daring, and Cassevates walks a tightrope between the lines dividing art and self, reality and illusion, creativity and madness. He maintains it right upto scene twenty-six, where matters are brought to a head in a manner that is fitting and unexpected.

We have already seen the scene which ends the movie play out earlier, during the rehearsals of the play. Its a tense scene between two thespians, Maurice (Cassevates) and Myrtle (Rowlands); we have already seen her disdain for it's artificiality and the violence shown towards her character, which she cannot separate from violence personally directed at her. Myrtle is also shaking off the effects of the alcohol which almost prevented her from being able to stand in her earlier scenes. To complicate matters further, Myrtle and Maurice were once a couple, and we have already seen him reject her twice in the movie. Backstage before the start of the scene, we see her say "I'm going to bury the bastard". The stage is set, literally, for a incendiary finale, an offer which the director gleefully refuses.

They start off the scene in character and according to script. But then, surprisingly, suddenly, Maurice responds to Myrtle’s ad-libbing and triggers off a stunning free-association improvisatory exchange that lasts fifteen minutes and changes the entire tone of the movie. Cassavetes’ character in the movie has been hanging around the edges, careful and cold, admitting at one point that he could not afford to take the kind of on-stage risks that Myrtle seemed desperate to take. But Maurice on this night can sense (and so can the viewers on screen and off) that this scene will never get done unless one works with Myrtle. However, instead of indulging her, as everyone in the movie has done upto this point, he challenges her by raising his own game. He answers her frank confession of "I am not me" with a melodramatic wisecrack ("We are not we"), and forces her into open combat instead of self-pity. Even as they try and top each other, one can sense his and Myrtle's surprise, and their increasingly infectious delight at the turn of events. Cassevates the actor often gets overshadowed by Cassevates the director, but few could have changed gears so quickly and convincingly and hilariously.

The scene covers a striking amount of ground – incorporating ’40s Hollywood-style repartee, the improvised, off-rhythm dialogue of independent cinema (a trend which Cassevates fathered) and slapstick both verbal and physical. The actors switch wildly in and out of character until the dividing line becomes indistinguishable. It may have been scripted, but the way it plays out, it doesn’t seem like it. By the end, the play's audience is in splits, and the characters are also finding it difficult to control their smiles of amusement and pride. The movie, which could easily have ended in apocalypse and seemed no less effective for it, ends with euphoria and forgiveness, and most enduringly, after two hours of exploring the destructive nature of art, a paean to the redemptive nature of creativity.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Blurb for Dev. D

Naive blogger: "I think this is going to be brilliant"

Seasoned critics (sensing an opportunity): "You young punks are so predictable. The only reason you say that is because you think the movie is going to serve up pill-popping, cussing and unrepentant sex, which in some deluded portion of your brain stands for some non-existent angst that your generation supposedly feels but hasn't been allowed to express"

Naive blogger: "Not really. I think it'll be brilliant because they've put all of that in the trailer"

Trailer in question (tera emotional atyachaar...now that's a song)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Horses: Patti Smith

In 1975, there was an album released with a chick on the cover. A compellingly strange chick. Feminine and androgynous both – unkempt hair, just above shoulder length, dressed in a man’s shirt and pant (or maybe they were her own), complete with suspenders and a coat slung over her shoulder. From the cover, it looked like she was staring someone down. She looked like she could kick your ass. She was also mysteriously sexy, and buyers then must have wondered what possible sounds were inside.

It turned out she could sing a bit, write a bit too. More than anything else, Patti Smith was a template, an image future generations could mould themselves into. It became ok to write dense, difficult poetry, set it to choppy rock rhythms, and sing in a hoarse voice. Most importantly, she proved that you could be a woman and do all that. Horses was one of those fortunate landmarks which were recognised upon their release as something new, and unique, and revolutionary. A lot has been written about how this was a proto-punk album. True and reductive at the same time, this is proto-punk in the same way the Velvets were proto-punk. Not much is there by way of beauty, the guitars and loud and fuzzy, everything seems to churn and grind. But like the Velvets on their apocalyptic first album, Smith grasp over rock ‘n roll dynamics was sure. Remember 'There she goes again’ with its strummed acoustic solo which suddenly becomes twice the song speed? Smith does similar things here – moreover, it is her voice which literally drives her raw but sympathetic band over these cliffs. See how ‘Free Money’ builds, starting out with slow piano, picking up pace and then, out of nowhere, suddenly exploding. But nowhere on this album do you hear the yammering anger of punk – in its place there is pain and dislocation, revenge and lust, explosion and orgasm, violation and eclipse.

It is interesting how Smith re-works old rock ‘n roll classics on this album – songs that had the spirit or the sonic template of punk, years before the movement got its name. She takes Van Morrison’s garage anthem of lust ‘Gloria’ and makes it even creepier and tougher than the original. The creepiness on display here though doesn’t even come close to the Land trilogy, a truly unhinged medley of the locker room rape of a boy called Johnny, Chris Kenner’s ‘Land of a thousand dances’, and three separate Patti Smith vocal tracks talking and singing us through what appears to be a suicide. And there’s a great bonus for anyone buying the re-issued version of the album – the Who’s ‘My generation’, with John Cale (producer on Horses) on bass. It’s a live version, with all the sonic clarity of a cat stuck inside an empty metal dustbin, and all the excitement too. Smith stretches her vocal chords unlike anything on the studio album, the band plays like the Sex Pistols and the Clash and hundreds of punk bands would in a few years. Cale plays the most violently distorted fuzz bass ever, you can barely hear the other guitar over it. It makes one long for the unpredictability of those times, or failing that, that brief period in the early nineties before the candle flickered out altogether.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Civil blood

In Saket today, we saw an small outdoor memorial for the dead in Mumbai. It was basic, unadorned, a collage with photos stuck and messages scribbled on it. There were a couple of bouquets in front. There was no sponsorship. There were no candles. In the aftermath of the attack and all its resultant distractions, it served as a reminder that remembering was just as important as moving on.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Road To Escondido: Review

In 2006, two men with a love for a particular kind of blues song came out with an album. It was called The Road To Escondido, the two bluesmen were Eric Clapton and JJ Cale. Clapton, of course, needs no introduction. But history has not served Cale as well. He is known primarily for being the main influence on the guitar sound of Mark Knopfler, and second for being the guy who wrote ‘Cocaine’, later made famous by Clapton (who also covered his 'After Midnight'). But his distinctive country-blues sound and guitar playing was also an influence on Clapton. So while many dubbed this as a good chance for Cale to finally bask in the limelight, Clapton likely saw it as just another opportunity to play with another of his idols.

‘Danger’ opens with the lovely warm organ sounds of Billy Preston (his last recorded work before his death), but only becomes truly dangerous when Clapton hits his first solo. It is surprisingly lyrical, and one realises that he is probably playing his own version of a Cale solo, which has the effect of freeing him from the strict self-imposed structures he stays within when he plays straight blues. The result is transporting, and is backed up perfectly by a typically sharp, precise Cale solo. This sets the tone for the rest of the album, both guitarists on the money, entwining yet completely distinct. They sing together on a number of songs, which helps immensely as both have pleasant but harmless voices (this has been a grey area on their solo efforts, where the thinness of the singing fails to back up the brilliance of the guitar playing).

The overall sound, country-blues, blues straight up, and a little south of the border feeling, is strongly reminiscent of early Dire Straits (though Cale fans would argue that Knopfler’s early sound was rooted in Cale’s). There are only two Clapton compositions on the album, and they are excellent, one a slow blues burn with John Mayer playing in his recent heavy, Vaughnesque style, the other an acoustic piece on the joys of fatherhood, with Taj Mahal playing some wistful harmonica. The rest are all Cale compositions, and are consistent with his songwriting style – street-smart lines tossed off casually, often too casually for them to be very memorable. So one is forced to fall back on the music – and luckily, it is uniformly excellent. Clapton and Cale spur each other on to some inspired, non-competitive playing. The others chip in as well. Preston’s organ wraps the album in lovely, warm waves. Mayer holds his own on guitar (and thankfully, doesn’t break the flow with a contrived ‘guest vocal’). Derek Trucks, guitarist for the current lineup of the Allman Brothers band, and nephew of Butch Trucks, the original band’s drummer, provides some luminous, almost sitar-like slide playing. The horns are muted, there is little distortion, Clapton resists ADT, and everyone desists from protracted soloing. The result is the best part-playing heard in years, outside of Bob Dylan’s recent backing band. The Road to Escondido is a better album than fans of either artist could have hoped for, and perversely, considering the legendary status of both men involved, the album that they deserved and had been made to wait for a long time.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mix tape: Recent past

Charged Side
1. Sign of the times – Bryan Ferry
2. In memory of – The Supersonics
3. Nada Nada - Avial
4. Walcott – Vampire Weekend
5. I’m Down – The Beatles
6. Jaane kyun – Dostana OST
7. Panama – Van Halen
8. Sick as a dog – Aerosmith

Reflective Side
1. Kid Charlemagne – Steely Dan
2. Danger – Eric Clapton and JJ Cale
3. Nice Dream – Radiohead
4. Paint the silence - South
5. Jane - Barenakedladies
6. Rain and Snow – The Chieftains with the Del McCoury Band
7. Well all right – Buddy Holly
8. Strangers – The Kinks

Sunday, November 16, 2008


He was an only child
In the year of Big Brother

He hadn’t heard of Orwell
He hadn’t seen the Apple Mac
He couldn’t articulate his feelings
In nineteen eighty four

He thought the world
Was just an orange
He thought his voice
Was something new
He thought of nothing
That didn’t interest him
In nineteen eighty four

He spoke in tongues
Which no one could decipher
He thought of things
No one had thought before
But no one questioned
His conclusions
Throughout nineteen eighty four

He took first steps towards
The greatness that awaited
Sometimes he stumbled
But no one seemed to care
There were no rules
There were no expectations
(There were only possibilities
And restful sleep)
In nineteen eighty four

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Plan 9 from outer space

Ed Wood Jr, cross-dresser, pulp fiction writer and filmmaker, had always idolized Orson Welles. Ironically, Plan 9 From Outer Space may just have been the Citizen Kane of trashy movies...

Monday, November 3, 2008

The man with the broken jaw

I’m not saying it wasn’t the right time for him to retire. Its just sad he has to go. He’s been around ever since I started watching the game. In those days, we used to say a lot of ‘Kumble doesn’t spin the ball’. We dropped that line a few years later when we grew brains and realized that the man was one of the most intense, competitive cricketers in the world. Everyone was to blame if Kumble was not getting wickets – himself, the batsman, the umpires and the ones he yelled at most, his close-in fielders. Other spinners would complain and plead, Kumble would glare and mutter stuff that our mothers were happy the stump mikes were not picking up.

It took even longer for us to realize that Kumble’s technique, which in our callow youth we had reduced to ‘medium-pace, no spin’, was actually like a great blues song. It was jagged yet subtle, pretty yet probing. The blues is centred around pain, and pain - on his face every ball, for himself, for the batsman, for Nayan Mongia (important contributant towards broken jaw) - was central to Kumble’s bowling. Every stab at the guitar was a wrong ‘un spitting off a fourth day pitch and crashing into off stump. Every moan and groan about whiskey and wimmen’ was an appeal turned down. Finally, setbacks just made the blues richer and more emphatic. No Indian cricketer has ever shrugged off setbacks with as much heart as Kumble.

India has had match-winning bowlers before Kumble, and there will be more after his retirement. If it were only Kumble the wicket-taker we were saying goodbye to, the mourning would only last as long as it takes us to find another talented unorthodox leg-spinner who will become India’s highest wicket-taker and (sometimes) take ten wickets in an innings. Which may not be easy. But what about Kumble the man? When will we find someone who continues to bowl and field after his jaw has been broken? Who gets dropped for potentially the biggest match of his career and has it in him to return as test captain five years later? That’s what we may find impossible to replace.

For many of us, the loss feels personal. Ever since I started watching cricket, there were two constants in the team – Kumble and Sachin. This list would later grow to include Dravid and Ganguly and would stop there. Kumble and Sachin. Both soft-spoken, both fiercely competitive. Both of them derided for a nation’s lack of overseas success, both instrumental in it being achieved at long last. Between the both of them, a string of memories like a Diwali ladi, lighting up the last fifteen years of my life. Now one of them has retired and I can’t even bear to think of the day that the other might as well…

But lets not get all teary-eyed. Jumbo, like all truly great sportsmen, did not appreciate weakness. He was all about the fight, in ways that boorish present-day cricketers cannot even begin to understand. So let's end this on a fighting note. We’ve moved away from the blues. The Dropkick Murphys accompany us on our way out, and mirror our feelings for you, Jumbo Kumble, the spinner who couldn’t even spin the ball.

‘They tell the story of a throwback
With the heart of a lion
They salute your glory'

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


there are about fifteen albums worth listening to in this world. will tell you about them later. not one of those is tonight's the night. neil young wrote the songs on this album for his friend and former crazy horse bandmate danny whitten and his former roadie, bruce berry. note former. opening track tells us that they both died out on the mainline. in order to make this set of depressing numbers even less appealing, he proceeded to haul the rest of crazy horse into the studio and get completely smashed, and then start recording. which is ok, coz he can't sing anyway. are you still reading?

Well, tell me more, tell me more, tell me more. I mean was he a heavy doper, or was he just a loser? He was a friend of yours...

one small problem. in addition to being entirely and completely unlistenable, it is the best distillation of pain ever to be found on a rock record. pain like the old blues, not clapton. pain like someone is dead. pain not like she left me, pain like she now likes someone else. pain like trying to keep your tired eyes open when you know sleep will bring you no peace.

Please take my advice
Please take my advice
Please take my advice
Open up the tired eyes
Open up the tired eyes

man walks into a bar. mumbles the same lines over and over. he's drunk, but no one's laughing.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sunday, October 5, 2008


They advanced slowly. The clouds loomed behind them, as if summoned by the ghost of Sergio Leone to add a dash of doom to the proceedings. There were no smiles on their faces. There were no scowls either, which was sort of unnerving in its own way. As they walked slowly towards the quivering posse, they reached into the right hand side pockets over their long weathered leather beige overcoats. The onlookers flinched but stood their ground, like brave extras in a bad movie. They watched the hands withdrawing from the coats, they saw the shine of gleaming metal, and questioned their purpose for the first, and ironically, probably the last time in their lives.

Meanwhile, the petrified posse could do nothing but look on in disbelief. Their main weapons were more psychological than anything else; they only used the real ones on unarmed bystanders and defenseless women and children. Their strength radiated in their conviction in their own ideology, a strength that became diamond-hard when used in oppostion to a conflicting viewpoint. But these ones were different. They could tell.

When they reached close enough to see the shaking knees and the unshaven faces losing colour, they stopped. One of them stepped forward.

'I speak for both of us', he said.

'Believe me...'

'We know what's going on'

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


The most positive thing one could say about the annual elocution competitions at my school was that they were consistently strange. Reduced to basics, it was a gathering of unfortunate sods bound by honour and loyalty to their house colours, parroting texts ranging from the 16th to the 21st century, tested by a crowd which could go from expectant to bored to hostile within the space of a single speech. Like all expositions, it was also an expose – of one’s memory, of pitch and timbre, and more revealingly, of one’s origins and ambitions. And if you think you can’t get all this from a stuttering 16 year old’s reciting ‘To be or not to be’ then you haven’t tried to fill the vastness of Spence Hall with a voice that hasn’t broken yet, you haven’t seen the fear in the eyes of a contestant when that slow hand clap begins, the one where the contestant forgets his lines and the audience tests his will to ever set foot on that stage again.

And then there were those moments which no one will ever forget. Like how every year someone would take a crack at Rebecca, but never quite match up to Gautam Bajaj’s original performance, authentic, sneering, spitting out the lines ‘You think I loved Rebecca? I HATED her”. There was the inspired and oft-repeated choice of The Odessa File by Fredrick Forsyth as speech material. There was Rana Pahwa doing a note-perfect Rex Harrison with ‘Let a woman in your life’. There was Udayan who had the temerity to read out, amidst all that Shakespeare and Shaw, a self-composition. And most memorable of all was that afternoon when we first heard the words boomalay boomalay boomalay boom…

The Congo’, a 1914 poem by Vachel Lindsay, is set in colonial Africa and is a sort of tribal chant in both form and spirit. The fact that Lindsay wrote his poems to be spoken out loud brings the material thrillingly close to the arena of rapping. I would have loved to see Public Enemy go at it, 'Tusk' by Fleetwood Mac playing in the background. Or maybe just the guy who recited it on that fateful day. I forgot who he was, but he went at it like a crazy preacher.

Fat black bucks in a wine-barrel room
Barrel-house kings, with feet unstable
Sagged and reeled and pounded on the table

‘Huh’ went his audience. At least it didn’t sound British.


‘Ah’ went everyone. Now it made sense.

‘Death is an Elephant
Torch-eyed and horrible
Foam-flanked and terrible.
BOOM, steal the pygmies
BOOM, kill the Arabs
BOOM, kill the white men’

‘Boom’ responded his audience. In one of those moments that came rarely on that hallowed stage, speaker and spoken to were both flying.

‘Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you. Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you. Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you’ he ended. There was nothing left to say.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


'...aur sadkein thi sab mere baap ki
Aur main tha, tu thi aur thi dilli bas'

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Part III: Every office has a quiet guy

He finally reached home. The taxi asked for extra because of the traffic they had fought their way through, the fact that it was evening and the part of town they were in would yield him no more passengers for the day, and because that little bit extra didn't really make a difference to him now, did it? He in turn paid the man without arguing because he saw it as buying some peace for himself, and one didn't get many opportunities to buy peace these days.

He reached home, mumbled a hello to whoever was sitting or not sitting in the living room, and headed for the bathroom. He locked the door behind him and stood there for a while, staring at his shoes. A strange light-headedness overtook him and he wondered whether it had anything to do with the fact that he hadn’t eaten anything since he had heard the news. Finally, he gathered enough courage to look up. And like that, he was transfixed.

The advantage of looking at your own reflection is that you know exactly where your flaws lie. It gives you the chance to pretend you can’t see them. So he ignored the unruly hair. He noticed the beginnings of a double chin but rationalized it by saying it gave him an air of gravity. He saw instead a pair of brown eyes, which seduced but did not threaten. He smiled, and was struck by how minimal the movement of his lips was, and how it genrated so much quiet warmth. He took off his shirt. He realised he had put on weight, but it could have been worse. His arms were just the right length - they complemented his height without reaching ape-like proportions; he also knew they made him look thinner but couldn’t explain why.

And like that, he was done with kidding himself. He had become his own fan club. Suddenly he was looking at his shoes again. Words came to him like echoes in a dream sequence from some low-budget movie. You’re fine, nothing’s wrong with you, you’re normal.


He took off all his clothes. Looked around for an object sharp enough to cause pain, and finally picked up the comb. He then took a deep breath and raised his head. He took a hard look at his unremarkable eyes, his ungainly form. Pressed the comb to his chest so that the points dug into his skin and made him grit his teeth, and started repeating the same line over and over until it became a mantra, a string of words whose powers of sustenance seem to derive more from repetition than from the intrinsic healing power of the words themselves.
“There’s no design, your flaws are fine. There’s no design, your flaws are fine. There’s no design, your flaws are fine…”

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Capsule Review: Rock On

Right away, let me say Rock On was a pleasant surprise. I went in mentally prepared for the bad GIR concert which a friend of mine was convinced this movie would be. Instead, what I saw was something in the Chak De India way - stay within Bollywood’s confines, but do it convincingly. If the girls in Chak De wielded a mean stick, the Rock On boys have you convinced that their air-guitaring and drumming is nothing as airy as one would expect from a genre whose previous cultural reference point in this regard was the soul-scarring image of Rajesh Khanna playing a guitar (in a discotheque!) only to throw it over to that other rock ‘n roll icon Mithun.

The ensemble cast turn in performances ranging from good to surprisingly good. The rhythm section is a great study in contrasts - Kenny, low-key and moving, Kohli, providing a vital comic kick whenever the pace threatens to flag. As leader of the band, Akhtar mostly glares a lot but lights up on stage, and Rampal, who is the real surprise of this movie, inhabits the role of the quiet, moody guitarist as if he had been waiting for it all his life. Its also refreshing to see the role of the free-loving minx go to Koel Puri instead of some bimbette, she takes the bit role and fills it with a knowing sex appeal and dancing eyes and a slow drawl. Only Prachi, pretty but woefully unhip as Akhtar’s wife, can’t quite shake off the soap star inside.

Despite the movie’s premise, its pace is reflective and the director gives his characters time to sort their heads out. In such a situation, had the onstage scenes fallen flat its likely the movie would have too. That doesn’t happen - the band is believable on stage, if slightly pansy by actual rock band standards (but perfect as a sort of English language Euphoria). The build-up to the final concert may be a shower of clichés, but that doesn’t alter its poignance a bit. Another thought struck me later – both this movie as well as Chak De were about chances wasted in youth and grabbed in desperation later. If, as these filmmakers seem to be saying, there are to be second acts in Indian lives, surely the time is due for a second wave, a new wave of movies made in India, with a scything originality and sureness of vision atoning for the sins of the past, and painting a visionary map for the future.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Uno, dos, tres, catorce

On March 17, 2005, Bruce Springsteen inducted U2 into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. Though I'm not overly fond of U2, I have a lot of time for Springsteen. This very long induction speech of his is hysterically funny, and also enlightening in case you thought the Boss wasn't capable of making refrences to Public Enemy, telling stories about Pete Townshed and saying "Before James Brown there was Jesus" in the same speech.

Uno, dos, tres, catorce. That translates as one, two, three, fourteen. That is the correct math for a rock and roll band. For in art and love and rock and roll, the whole had better equal much more than the sum of its parts, or else you're just rubbing two sticks together searching for fire. A great rock band searches for the same kind of combustible force that fueled the expansion of the universe after the big bang. You want the earth to shake and spit fire. You want the sky to split apart and for God to pour out.

It's embarrassing to want so much, and to expect so much from music, except sometimes it happens -- the Sun Sessions, Highway 61, Sgt. Peppers, the Band, Robert Johnson, Exile on Main Street, Born to Run -- whoops, I meant to leave that one out -- the Sex Pistols, Aretha Franklin, the Clash, James Brown...the proud and public enemies it takes a nation of millions to hold back. This is music meant to take on not only the powers that be, but on a good day, the universe and God himself -- if he was listening. It's man's accountability, and U2 belongs on this list.

It was the early '80s. I went with Pete Townshend, who always wanted to catch the first whiff of those about to unseat us, to a club in London. There they were: A young Bono -- single-handedly pioneering the Irish mullet; the Edge -- what kind of name was that?; Adam and Larry. I was listening to the last band of whom I would be able to name all of its members. They had an exciting show and a big, beautiful sound. They lifted the roof.

We met afterwards and they were nice young men. They were Irish. Irish! Now, this would play an enormous part in their success in the States. For what the English occasionally have the refined sensibilities to overcome, we Irish and Italians have no such problem. We come through the door fists and hearts first. U2, with the dark, chiming sound of heaven at their command -- which, of course, is the sound of unrequited love and longing, their greatest theme -- their search for God intact. This was a band that wanted to lay claim to not only this world but had their eyes on the next one, too.

Now, they're a real band; each member plays a vital part. I believe they actually practice some form of democracy -- toxic poison in a band's head. In Iraq, maybe. In rock, no! Yet they survive. They have harnessed the time bomb that exists in the heart of every great rock and roll band that usually explodes, as we see regularly from this stage. But they seemed to have innately understood the primary rule of rock band job security: "Hey, asshole, the other guy is more important than you think he is!" They are both a step forward and direct descendants of the great bands who believed rock music could shake things up in the world, who dared to have faith in their audience, who believed if they played their best it would bring out the best in you. They believed in pop stardom and the big time. Now this requires foolishness and a calculating mind. It also requires a deeply held faith in the work you're doing and in its powers to transform. U2 hungered for it all, and built a sound, and they wrote the songs that demanded it. They're keepers of some of the most beautiful sonic architecture in rock and roll.

The Edge. The Edge. The Edge. The Edge. He is a rare and true guitar original and one of the subtlest guitar heroes of all time. He's dedicated to ensemble playing and he subsumes his guitar ego in the group. But do not be fooled. Take Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Neil Young, Pete Townshend -- guitarists who defined the sound of their band and their times. If you play like them, you sound like them. If you are playing those rhythmic two-note sustained fourths, drenched in echo, you are going to sound like the Edge, my son. Go back to the drawing board and chances are you won't have much luck. There are only a handful of guitar stylists who can create a world with their instruments, and he's one of them. The Edge's guitar playing creates enormous space and vast landscapes. It is a thrilling and a heartbreaking sound that hangs over you like the unsettled sky. In the turf it stakes out, it is inherently spiritual. It is grace and it is a gift.

Now, all of this has to be held down by something. The deep sureness of Adam Clayton's bass and the rhythms of Larry Mullen's elegant drumming hold the band down while propelling it forward. It's in U2's great rhythm section that the band finds its sexuality and its dangerousness. Listen to "Desire," "She Moves in Mysterious Ways," [sic] the pulse of "With or Without You" Together Larry and Adam create the element that suggests the ecstatic possibilities of that other kingdom -- the one below the earth and below the belt -- that no great rock band can lay claim to the title without.

Now Adam always strikes me as the professorial one, the sophisticated member. He creates not only the musical but physical stability on his side of the stage. The tone and depth of his bass playing has allowed the band to move from rock to dance music and beyond. One of the first things I noticed about U2 was that underneath the guitar and the bass, they have these very modern rhythms going on. Rather than a straight 2 and 4, Larry often plays with a lot of syncopation, and that connects the band to modern dance textures. The drums often sounded high and tight and he was swinging down there, and this gave the band a unique profile and allowed their rock textures to soar above on a bed of his rhythm.

Now Larry, of course, besides being an incredible drummer, bears the burden of being the band's requisite ‘good-looking member’, something we somehow overlooked in the E Street Band. We have to settle for ‘charismatic’. Girls love Larry Mullen! I have a female assistant that would like to sit on Larry's drum stool. A male one, too. We all have our crosses to bear.

Bono...where do I begin? Jeans designer, soon-to-be World Bank operator, just plain operator, seller of the Brooklyn Bridge -- oh hold up, he played under the Brooklyn Bridge, that's right. Soon-to-be mastermind operator of the Bono burger franchise, where more than one million stories will be told by a crazy Irishman. Now I realize that it's a dirty job and somebody has to do it, but don't quit your day job yet, my friend. You're pretty good at it, and a sound this big needs somebody to ride herd over it.

And ride herd over it he does. His voice, big-hearted and open, thoroughly decent no matter how hard he tries. Now he's a great frontman. Against the odds, he is not your mom's standard skinny, ex-junkie archetype. He has the physique of a rugby player...well, an ex-rugby player. Shaman, shyster, one of the greatest and most endearingly naked messianic complexes in rock and roll. God bless you, man! It takes one to know one, of course.

You see, every good Irish and Italian-Irish front man knows that before James Brown there was Jesus. So hold the McDonald arches on the stage set, boys, we are not ironists. We are creations of the heart and of the earth and of the stations of the cross -- there's no getting out of it. He is gifted with an operatic voice and a beautiful falsetto rare among strong rock singers. But most important, his is a voice shot through with self-doubt. That's what makes that big sound work. It is this element of Bono's talent -- along with his beautiful lyric writing -- that gives the often-celestial music of U2 its fragility and its realness. It is the questioning, the constant questioning in Bono's voice, where the band stakes its claim to its humanity and declares its commonality with us.

Now Bono's voice often sounds like it's shouting not over top of the band but from deep within it. "Here we are, Lord, this mess, in your image." He delivers all of this with great drama and an occasional smirk that says, "Kiss me, I'm Irish." He's one of the great front men of the past twenty years. He is also one of the only musicians to devote his personal faith and the ideals of his band into the real world in a way that remains true to rock's earliest implications of freedom and connection and the possibility of something better.
Now the band's beautiful songwriting -- "Pride (In The Name of Love)," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "One," "Where the Streets Have No Name," "Beautiful Day" -- reminds us of the stakes that the band always plays for. It's an incredible songbook. In their music you hear the spirituality as home and as quest. How do you find God unless he's in your heart? In your desire? In your feet? I believe this is a big part of what's kept their band together all of these years.

See, bands get formed by accident, but they don't survive by accident. It takes will, intent, a sense of shared purpose, and a tolerance for your friends' fallibilities...and they of yours. And that only evens the odds. U2 has not only evened the odds but they've beaten them by continuing to do their finest work and remaining at the top of their game and the charts for 25 years. I feel a great affinity for these guys as people as well as musicians.
Well...there I was sitting down on the couch in my pajamas with my eldest son. He was watching TV. I was doing one of my favorite things -- I was tallying up all the money I passed up in endorsements over the years and thinking of all the fun I could have had with it. Suddenly I hear "Uno, dos, tres, catorce!" I look up. But instead of the silhouettes of the hippie wannabes bouncing around in the iPod commercial, I see my boys!

Oh, my God! They sold out!

Now...what I know about the iPod is this: It is a device that plays music. Of course their new song sounded great, my guys are doing great, but methinks I hear the footsteps of my old tape operator Jimmy Iovine somewhere. Wily. Smart. Now, personally, I live an insanely expensive lifestyle that my wife barely tolerates. I burn money, and that calls for huge amounts of cash flow. But I also have a ludicrous image of myself that keeps me from truly cashing in. You can see my problem. Woe is me.

So the next morning, I call up Jon Landau -- or as I refer to him, "the American Paul McGuinness" -- and I say, "Did you see that iPod thing?" And he says, "Yes." And he says, "And I hear they didn't take any money." And I said, "They didn't take any money?!" And he says, "No." I said, "Smart, wily Irish guys." Anybody...anybody...can do an ad and take the money. But to do the ad and not take the money...that's smart. That's wily. I say, "Jon, I want you to call up Bill Gates or whoever is behind this thing and float this: A red, white, and blue iPod signed by Bruce "the Boss" Springsteen. Now remember, no matter how much money he offers, don't take it!"

At any rate...at any rate, after that evening, for the next month or so, I hear emanating from my lovely 14-year-old son's room, day after day, down the hall calling out in a voice that has recently dropped very low: Uno, dos, tres, catorce. The correct math for rock and roll. Thank you, boys.

This band...this band has carried their faith in the great inspirational and resurrective power of rock and roll. It never faltered, only a little bit. They believed in themselves, but more importantly, they believed in you, too. Thank you Bono, the Edge, Adam, and Larry. Please welcome U2 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hancock: The reluctant superhero movie which got mistaken for a movie about a reluctant superhero

This summer, with everyone busy raving about Dark Knight, not many realized that there was another superhero movie with comparable depth, originality and poignance in theatres at the same time. That movie was Hancock, and it made its millions by confusing viewers into believing that they were going to see a bona-fide summer action movie, with Will Smith doing his charm thing. What they got was a strange amalgam of big-budget blockbuster and low-budget character study, mixing scenes of crude humour and hard-won redemption, without bothering to make it look seamless. Hancock was, to say the least, an unsettling experience.

The first thing that stands out is the genuine hurt in Smith’s eyes, a change from his normal confident twinkle, and an indication that he may have approached this a lot more seriously than is evident. In the trailer, the scene where the PR agent calls a press conference and gives Hancock cards to read out is cleverly cut and presented as an emphatic, heartfelt moment; in the movie we notice the flat monotone in which the lines are delivered, and realise that 'You deserve better from me, I will do better" is a con, he’s past caring. He is taken to jail for destruction of property, and opts to stay in, even though he could break out anytime he wants. Finally the police call him for help, and he gets a new look, a new attitude, and a new suit. But just when redemption seems at hand and the audience settles down for some good-old-multi-million-dollar-digitally-enhanced-fun, the movie turns again.

The central twist in the tale is a masterful setting up and subsequent defying of audience expectations. We see the tension between Smith and Theron build in a series of impossibly close-shot, ridiculously tense shots, shading what would normally have been very normal scenes. Just when you think the filmmaker is going to hand the very sexy Charlize Theron the job of romantic foil to the uncharacteristically (and deliberately) uncharismatic Smith, he introduces a twist rife with apparent comic potential, and uses it instead for tragic effect. What follow are scenes of unexpected violence, which again deny the audience the simple pleasures (if they still exist beyond the realm of stupefying cliché) of a Hollywood action movie and bring the story to a jarring end. I know this may not be the best way to persuade people to see this movie. I can only say that this movie has been lingering in my mind (this despite my being blown away by Dark Knight that same evening) and still sits there today, obstinate and refusing to submit to audience expectations without a fight.

Monday, July 28, 2008

In a classical context

Western classical music has always made me uncomfortable. Maybe because I learnt the Indian equivalent, which is a lot of hard work, and a lot of rules which you need to learn before you can break them. Or maybe its because I feel I'm still just scraping the surface of the rock and pop and blues and jazz and soul which has been filling my head and flowing out of my ears and mouth and eyes for years now. I also needed to get used to the idea that I wouldn't get to hear the original composers play their own compositions, something which is considered very important in other forms of popular music. Even a great cover version derives its greatness from the way it improves on the original. How was I supposed to listen to only covers?

Finally, there was the issue of being cheated musically, something which I take very seriously, and try to avoid rather obsessively. How would I know whether the Schumann tune I'm hearing is actually bad or being played badly? I'm not talking about out of tune violins, but what about a passable workmanlike peformance versus an inspired rendition of the same? How do you know? Rock music is basically an endless series of variations on a small handful of musical themes, jazz is a more complex manifestation of thematic variations - but both have one common truth. It all depends on the player, the band, the singer. Not so in this case.

But then I think back to the time I first heard something really heavy (Deep Purple, Between Hell and High Water). At the time, I really thought that was as loud as it was going to get. But then there was a lot of Zepplin, a lot of punk, the Velvets, Sonic Youth, and recently the grunge bands, and now I feel confident enough to claim that if I do not like a loud band its not because they are loud. I also think of the time I was starting out as a jazz listener, grappling with the prominence of the bass, the brushstrokes instead of a solid backbeat, the saxes resisting the melody till the point of frustration (mine, not the musician's). When I think of these experiences, Canon in D Major by Pachelbel doesn't seem scary at all. These tunes are all around us. They turn up in ad jingles, in hotel elevators, and in Performance Management courses. They nag at us with violins, and glockenspiels, and woodwinds. They make offices bearable, like yesterday when I blasted Bolero For Orchestra, complete with sinuous theme and crashing finale, disturbed the peace, and felt like a rock 'n roll rebel in a classical context.

What I'm trying to say is bring it on. I'm ready.

*(Charlie Chaplain conducting the Abe Lyman orchestra)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Indie without the baggage: The Shins and Vampire Weekend

The Shins have been around in the indie circles for a few years, sending shivers down the spines of the serious-minded, and barely registering on the radar of those who believe that music which is not on the charts isn’t music at all. Many fans who were turned onto ‘New Slang’ by Garden State and Natalie Portman predicted a revival of shoe-gaze, but realized after they bought their 2001 album, Oh Inverted World, that slotting The Shins was no easy game. There was some Beach Boys there, some Bubblegum Pop, and to balance things out, an overlooked but consistent post-punk sensibility. Johnny Mercer sounds a lot like Pete Townshend, in that he sings like the air has been squeezed out of him (except, ironically, on ‘New Slang’, which is rendered in a beautiful offhand undertone). One thing everyone agreed on – they had a pre-natural grasp for melody, and a tendency to underplay things, qualities which as a combination had been missing from the music scene for a few decades.

Their follow-up album, Chutes Too Narrow, capitalized on these strengths, but also pushed the band’s sound in new directions with the startling loud-soft dynamics of ‘Kissing the lipless’ and the frantic rush of ‘Fighting in a sack’. But it was their third release, Wincing The Night Away, that truly showcased their willingness to experiment. Sandwiched between illegally sweet melodies were the spooky, rusted ‘Black Wave’, ‘Pam Berry’ and ‘Split Needles’, sounding like the aural equivalent of the tension that had always been lurking in their lyrics. Remarkably, they made all of it sound like a logical extension, instead of a departure from their normal sound.

However, if I had to pick a band can distract me from my Shins-worship, it would be Vampire Weekend. Sunny, utterly original and as smooth flowing as a stream, their sound was immediately (and correctly) compared to Paul Simon circa Graceland. But it hardly sounds derivative, you’d have to hear the actual songs to understand why this band has a sound all of its own. The lyrics are less crabby than those of the Shins, and have about an equal chance of being dismissed as bollocks. But their sound - the Afro Pop influenced singing, the clear beautiful lead guitar tone uncluttered by any extra rhythm - is the real triumph. Emphatically not ‘world music’, this Soweto via Manhattan vibe may be the most refreshing sound to hit the music scene in a long time.

(For more on Vampire Weekend, read Penfold, the first off the blocks when it comes to the indie scene)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Day for Night: Truffaut and the Truth

Pauline Kael, in her review of the film, called it “a movie for the movie-struck”. If that is true, then it would go some way in explaining why I liked it so much, where Truffaut’s much-venerated classic Jules et Jim left me somewhat cold. Day for Night is a film about the making of a film, a doomed, overheated piece called Meet Pamela, which is what seems to have riled up Kael in the first place. She misses the point. The fact that Ferrand, the director (played by Truffaut) actually believes that they are creating a small piece of art, enough to re-do a scene after adjusting the face of the leading lady by a few milimetres, makes it a movie about the alchemy of the movie-making process, irrespective of the end product.

There are moments that one can expect only from Truffaut. There is a dream sequence that unfolds in parts and in the end reveals a boy stealing publicity stills of Citizen Kane. Truffaut once said of that movie that it was the one that launched the maximum number of directors on their careers. Then what does he mean by this scene? Is Truffaut saying that the character he is playing is a hack, and in effect, distancing himself from him? Or does he perhaps feel a kinship with him and his troubled dreams about his inability to match up to a film like Kane? Is it a reminder of the fact that the New Wave was primarily founded on the work done by Hollywood directors like Welles, Hawks and Ford – suggesting that they are all, in a way, guilty of theft?

There is one more scene, much talked-about, which sticks in one’s mind. The young lead has to shoot his father in the movie. It is a scene rooted in artifice. The actor playing the father has died, so they have a stand-in. It is shot with artificial snow, the effect created by industrial foam. The director barks instructions at the extras as the scene is being shot, reminding us at every step that it is not ‘real’. Finally, with the thrilling background music rising to a crescendo, we see the man being shot, many times, from different angles. The scene could serve as a lesson in editing; it could also be a meditation on the nature of truth. When you get down to it, no movie is real. Realistic they can be, or based on real events. But the minute you have a plan, a script, a person shouting “Cut”, you are imitating life. The audience knows this and doesn’t care- what they are looking for in movies is not realism, but instead that one transcendental moment. Truffaut’s major achievement is that, after watching this movie, many would agree that he has a sure grasp on both reality and magic.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Part I: Every office has a quiet guy

On the way back, he replayed the conversation in his mind. He remembered every pencil fumble. Memory was the least of his problems.

“Ah yes. Come in. Come in. How are you?”
“Fine sir”
“Good. I hardly see you now days.”
He smiled, but kept silent. He generally preferred to remain that way until someone asked him a question.
“I wanted to speak to you for some time now…” the boss continued “…but something or the other kept coming in the way. You know how it is here…”
“Yes sir” he said. He did know how it was there, in fact, and it affected him a lot more than people realised. He wondered what was making the man who had single-handedly founded the office they all worked in some thirty years ago so nervous.
“So anyway…here we are now…”
“You joined two years ago, isn't it?”
“Two and a half sir”
“Right. Right. So, how are you finding things now days?”
“Good Sir, fine. Lots of business coming in…” he started, but saw the silver-streaked head before him shaking and stopped.
“Not like that. I meant how are things with you today, after this much time with the company”
He knew what to say. Anyone who had done an MBA knew what to say. “I feel much more involved today sir. I think I’m beginning to understand my job and my role in the organization a lot better now”
The Living Legend tapped his pencil and looked worried. “That’s good. Though to be honest I was expecting you to say something else …if you do have any problems you can tell me, you know…”
“What sort of problems?”
“Anything. We are completely open door. If there’s anything about your work that’s troubling you…or the office…”
“I love my work here”
“Are you sure? Don’t you find it difficult to have to talk to so many new people? Every day. With your condition…”

Sometimes he remained silent even when someone had asked him a question. This was one of those moments.

“Its nothing to be ashamed of…”
“I know”
He knew that. Sort of.

After a long uncomfortable silence, the boss asked him a series of questions. Had he thought about his future? Was he interested in pursuing other lines of work (because they could help him, get him started off, put him in touch with the right people)? Did he see himself doing this job in five years? Did he sometimes feel his talents lay elsewhere (not that he was not good at this, he was, but its all about human potential, isn’t it)?

'The eloquent young pilgrims pass, and leave behind their trail, imploring us not to fail'

He finally understood. He thought of asking if his Team Leader had complained. But he knew she wouldn’t have. She didn’t mind him. Neither did the others, though he knew he made them uncomfortable. He remembered his first week. So many people had come up and asked him if he was always this silent that he decided that would be his identity from then on.
Lord Silens.
Monsieur Silencieux.
El Silencioso.

Every office has a quiet guy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Can you explain a bird?

One could argue that the lyrics below mean nothing. One could also argue that it doesn't matter. 'Piper' by Phish. Lovely stuff, hear it if you haven't...

'Piper, Piper the red red worm

Awoke last night to the sound of the storm

The words are the words I sailed upon'

Monday, June 9, 2008

Ekta Kapoor, you should be ashamed of yourself


Rocky roads to Dublin

One, two, three, four five,
Hunt the hare and turn her
Down the rocky road
And all the way to Dublin,

The rocky road to Dublin is a 19th century Irish song about leaving home, ogling at girls in foreign lands and getting into fights that one can’t win. This renders its appeal timeless, and nearly every Irish music group worth their salt has taken a crack at it, albeit in wildly varying styles.

“The rocky road to Dublin” – Gaelic Storm
This was the first version of the song I heard, and the closest, one would have to assume, to the original Emerald Isle version. Gaelic Storm, whom some would remember as the band on The Titanic, is a traditional Irish band, in that they play music which is pure Irish, and not Irish Pop, or Irish Rock. Their version is taken at a fair clip, straightforward vocal, some nice violins, but nothing else to distract from the song itself.

“The rocky road to Dublin” – The Dropkick Murphys
Obliterates the Gaelic Storm version from one’s mind – this is the perfect storm. Like most DKM songs, it is the musical equivalent of a mob running towards you throwing bricks. While this lessens the chances of sneaking a violin in there somewhere, its just about perfect for the last paragraph, where the home-sick traveler gets picked on by the boys of Liverpool. The way the singer shouts “I could no longer stand it” leaves you in no doubt that he feels deeply about the situation, and it is this clenched-fist intensity that makes this version, for me at least, the most accurate and heartfelt of the three.

“The rocky road to Dublin” – The Chieftains and The Rolling Stones
The Chieftains have been bringing Irish music to the masses for decades now, as well as coming out with brilliant collaborative albums with country and rock musicians. The Rolling Stones have been singing about every form of excess, as well as indulging in them for decades now. Their version starts off carefully (Paddy Moloney sings, not Jagger) and slower than the other two. Somewhere after the second paragraph, however, a grinding guitar enters, and delicacy is abandoned for the rest of the song. Things get weirder and weirder – Watts forgets that he’s not playing a Stones song and starts thudding about, the two guitars continue to grind, and Jagger, finding nothing to do apparently gets up to dance (you can hear him tapping around in the background). The song ends with an extended instrumental jam, which reminded me of Van Morrison’s theory that the blues derived from Ireland, not Africa (a theory that has roughly the same standing in the musical world as the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis has in Biology). Whatever it is, it sounds dark and jagged and melodious, like drinking a pint of beer with a bar fight going on in the background.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Free Jazz/ Punk Rock

*(Lester Bangs with The Clash)

A brilliant unpublished piece by the great Lester Bangs. He wrestled with his demons in full public view. His imitators make movies now days. His fans make music.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Capsule review: Iron Man

Were there any hidden layers in the big-screen version of Iron Man? The story certainly lends itself to that purpose - a tale about a man who makes weapons and then stops making them because he realises they kill people and then makes a new weapon which in the end nearly kills him - but I have my doubts. Had the makers equated Iron Man with irony rather than heavy metal, we might have landed up with something more emotionally satisfying. As it stands though, the movie is a weird mixture of fast cars, churning guitars, loud clanking noises, sheep-brained propaganda, more loud clanking noises and in the midst of all this, trying to make sense of proceedings, a bunch of former Oscar nominees. Robert Downey Jr plays his superhero as mocking and flawed (recent Batmen should take a cue) and has a teasing chemistry with Paltrow, who lights up the screen. As for the rest, Jeff Bridges has seen better days, Terrence Howard reprises his accent from Hustle and Flow, and there are a bunch of Arabs from Central Casting. Expect nothing but standard superhero fare and you may not be dissapointed. But its a bit sad that no one seems to be interested in reaching for the kind of artistic vision displayed in Hellboy or the first two movies in the Batman series.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Treasure, sunken

Its a very I-will-tell-you-insignificant-details-about-my-mundane-life type blogger sort of thing to do, but yesterday was kind of remarkable, and I'd rather write about it in the hope that any readers who may be lurking out there do not apply the same weird standards which I do while judging blog posts. More to the point, yesterday i found, in an old dusty cupboard, tucked underneath the spare bed in the spare room, books which I had loved, lost and given up hope of ever finding. For starters, on top, covered in dust and cobwebs, was my Gatsby, with its fantastic foreward stretching almost as long as the novel itself. I found my old Gerald Durrells, including the ones in which he is writing about his family, the funniest reads north of Paul Colhelo. There also emerged a Garrison Keillor, showing a touching determination to keep re-entering my life until I finally read it, and an Anne Rice, reminding everyone that you don't need to read like porn to be erotic. And most astonishingly, there was my copy of Rats Saw God, ostensibly teenlit but actually the greatest book ever written since... (Aaargh. Too much hyperbole). A varied treasure, from a treasure chest of variable quality, arriving months before Thanksgiving, and too late in the day for me to go and light a candle in the local synagogue (I'm kidding. Garlands. Temple).

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Just like I do every third post or so, I'm cheating. This was actually an excerpt from a mail I had written to a couple of my friends describing something that had taken place in class at my MBA Institute. If you have a faint heart or an undying love for buzzing insects, please do not read any further...

"...I gotta tell you about this class here, its called Legal Aspects of Business, taught by this small, bespectacled DU prof. Its the most boring thing on earth, and to complicate matters, the teacher probably hates my guts after what happened today. I’ve already fallen embarrassingly, publicly asleep in his class before, so he knows my face. And then today this happened...
We're about an hour into a 2 hour lecture. I’m sitting last bench, rubbing my eyes, trying to clear the fog in my head. Out of nowhere, in flies this bee. As if fate had ordained it so, it heads straight in my direction, and after weaving in front of my face threateningly, dives behind my chair.
I look around to see whether it plans to sit there quietly. No luck, buzzes and shakes are heard. Girl from across the aisle, Monash, advises "Don't glare at it like that. Just hit it". I sigh. Killing insects is not something I’m very good at. Anyway, I ask for an economic times, roll it up and turn in my chair. The lecture is still continuing.
Missed. Damn.
I suddenly realise i should say something reassuring. "I'm sorry, Sir. There’s a bee here".
I decide that all this would be better achieved standing, so i get up. I see one tentative antennae of bee above chair level.
Bee dives down below. This is going to be tough. I decide to be patient and wait. After a longish pause, bee makes desperate bid for freedom.
Hmm. Not that good. Bee 6, Me 0. I turn around for support. Sir is looking at me with expression I can’t quite describe. I decide we're gonna have to use drastic measures. I go down after bee. Class watches in fascination as series of muffled thuds emerge from behind the chair.
By this point its not only Sir who's had enough. Monash gets up, takes her register, motions me to move aside, and proceeds to crush the bee against the wall. Effective technique, but hardly classy. Anyway, class applauds. No takers for my theory that bee committed suicide seconds before Monash killed it.
Sir, having kept silent uptil now, feels the need to say something, anything, on the subject.
"You know, its useless to kill them. They multiply geometrically. In fact, if you show no fear the bee will not sting you".
I shake my head violently. i cannot agree. Bees do not think that way.
"So next time, you should just sit still".
I decide Maximum Lawman will not get the last word.
"Next time, Sir, I’ll just change my seat".

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The 6 most underrated punk songs ever

1. Suspect device – Stiff Little Fingers
Its not unknown or anything. Its pretty damn famous, to tell the truth. But what bugs me is that I never hear it being mentioned in the same breath as ‘Anarchy’ or ‘White Riot’ while it is every bit as focused and angry and political as them. Everything about it pure punk – the aggression, the we-take-no-prisoners stance and the absolute refusal to recognize the existence of such a thing as a guitar solo.

2. Radio free Europe – R.E.M
Though R.E.M is rarely spoken of as falling in the punk genre, their early music could reasonably be described as folk-punk. Radio Free Europe, though, was pure punk in execution, even though the subject matter was interpreted as either cryptic (if you decided you liked R.E.M) or mumbled bollocks (if you couldn’t care less). Hear the single version, the album version has better sound and is much clearer, which is not what you listen to a punk rock song for.

3. Spanish bombs – The Clash

An example of how far punk rock can be stretched, by a band that pushed back punk’s horizons further than any one else. An amazingly ambitious song which time travels between the Spanish Civil War and the modern day troubles in Ireland, and in the process proves two things – one, you can name drop Garcia Lorca and still call yourself a punk band, and two, an acoustic spanish guitar chopping away in the background can sound deadly.

4. Rumble – Link Wray And his Raymen

The greatest instrumental punk rock number ever. It sowed the seeds long before the sound even had a name.

5. Teenage riot – Sonic Youth

A band that has defied easy labeling, and this song is a good example why. Its starts off with a simple guitar figure which extends for a minute and twenty-three seconds and cannot be called punk by any stretch of imagination. But then the loud guitars kick in, swirling and chopping and we are in punk territory, yet there’s something weird. Where’s the anger? Where’s the sloganeering? The answer lies in the album title – Daydream Nation – and in that marvelous line ‘it takes a teenage riot to get me out of bed’. A perfect example of where restless minds took punk in the ‘80s (and a private lament that no one took it further).

6. Summer of ’69 – Bryan Adams

I left this one for last, since I know all of you will be out of your seats yelling as soon as you see it. But I’m serious. Summer of ’69 may just be the Greatest Punk Rock Song You Never Knew. Just bear with me and hear it again. What sentiment could be more punk than playing your first cheap guitar till your fingers bleed? And listen to that damn starting riff. No matter how sissy you may think Adams is, who can take that riff away from him, that primal, straight from the gut, shut-up-and-listen riff.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Two Chord Ballad

She appeals to me
Sort of like Mata Hari
She avoids things flowery
She pointed out the dog sleeping on the car roof
Reminded her of a lion she once saw on safari
Laughs at her own jokes
Wrapped in intrigue and cigarette smoke
Wearing those faded jeans
Watching the world revolve around her
Watching the guys surround her
While she explains the consciousness of streams

She speaks to me
Says she’s cutting her hair
For some audience she knows is out there
But her audience is me, and I don’t care
She doesn’t need an analyst
She doesn’t need a guitar tuner
She tunes her guitar herself
Pulls books from the shelf
And wonders why she never bought them sooner

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Shepe I'm In

"...where XL persons had their lyvings, now one man and his shepherd hath all...Yes, those shepe is the cause of all theise mischieves, for they have driven husbandrie out of the countries, by the which was increased before all kynde of victuall, and now altogether shepe, shepe."

- John Shepherd, 1549

Friday, April 4, 2008


I walked towards IIT, cussing under my breath with each step. Why me, why this job, why the auto repair, why the scratched CD, and most of all, why rain all of a sudden in February? Then I did myself a favour and looked up. It was magical. A light drizzle persisted, but the sun had come out. It broke through the dense cover of trees overhead and streaked the dark green with shimmering fluorescent. Drops hung from the branches, wishing they were frost. The road looked shiny, sleek - a siren lying in wait for unsuspecting scooterists. There was a slight nip in the air, a cruel teaser considering the already soaring temperatures and the many months left for the Monsoon. I pulled out my Sony Ericsson and started clicking.

It was like Monet had painted the scene from inside a car with the windscreen wipers working furiously but ultimately proving ineffective. It was like Jefferson Airplane had sung it. It said ‘rainy day’ like nothing else.

I’ll burn every bridge that I cross. To find some beautiful place to get lost.

‘Black and White’
The day was bad. The moment when I looked up was good. Its not just that. In what has become a rare occurrence, my eyes were actually open to the beauty of the scene in front of me. If that sounds self-serving, I can assure you that most other days, I would simply have seen a wet road.

The wrought-iron gate cast ghostly white shadows, the sky was as black as a cadaver. Purple patches festered like small mushroom clouds. Even with all this, one’s eye kept returning to the small splash of red in the far right corner of the page.

Friday, March 28, 2008

10:37 AM (Sleepytime)

Because the sun is now rising and because it is somehow comforting to write about all this even when you know no one is reading and because my teacher told me never to start a sentence with because because said I yes she said no no because said I indicating through appropriate changes in inflection that I meant it as a question are you trying to be funny she said accompanying it with a wayward fling of the duster which went and ricocheted off the one hundred and fifty year old wall dislodging plaster which had seen seven floods and several generations of schoolboys with compasses in its proud history but now I am digressing and time is short because my brain is shouting SLEEPYTIME and my arms are weary SLEEPYTIME and my eyes are closing SLEEPYTIME but not yet not before I tell you how I traveled from Jaipur to Allahabad to Hyderabad to Mysore to Ahmedbad to Kolkata in the space of two weeks for that is my job and yes I know the first year is tough and is supposed to build character and no I don’t really believe that crap anyway I don’t care much for the travel and I don’t like talking to people I do not know unless they happen to be particularly interesting or beautiful and if that makes me a misfit in my current profession let me assure you no one is more keenly aware of that than me anyway there were some worthwhile moments especially Bhavnagar where prosperous shopkeepers cancelled interview appointments and we finally ended up speaking to a man who asked if we really wanted to because he was a Harijan and for once I felt I could genuinely say it would be our pleasure and then there were those Citra bottles remember Citra I miss Citra I also miss Gold Spot but not Campa Cola and then there were remembrances of trips past but I’ll probably tell you about that some other time because my head is heavy SLEEPYTIME and my heart is aching SLEEPYTIME and the sun is rising SLEEPYTIME

Sunday, March 23, 2008


My favourite lyricist, or rather, the lyricist whom I'd want to write like the most. The song, of course, is from his deservedly famous, genre-blending album Graceland. Unlike, say, 'Calling Elvis' or 'Walking in Memphis', reference to The King's home does not define the song here. Instead, Paul Simon pays Elvis back for providing him his early inspiration by giving Graceland the respect it deserves, seeing it in terms of a promised land rather than the scene of Elvis' last bloated years. The definitive version, for any fanatical Paul Simon fans ('is there such a kind, girl, seems so hard to find...') is the live version from Paul Simon's Concert in the Park, not to be confused with Simon and Garfunkel's Concert in Central Park, which is a whole different case of brilliance, and I have to work, bye...

The Mississippi Delta was shining
Like a National guitar,
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the civil war,

I'm going to Graceland
In Memphis Tennessee
I'm going to Graceland,

Poorboys and Pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland,

My traveling companion is nine years old
He is the child of my first marriage,
But I've reason to believe
We both will be received
In Graceland,

She comes back to tell me she's gone,
As if I didn't know that
As if I didn't know my own bed,
As if I'd never noticed,
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead,
And she said losing love
Is like a window in your heart,
Everybody sees you're blown apart,
Everybody sees the wind blow,

I'm going to Graceland,
Memphis Tennessee
I'm going to Graceland,
Poorboys and Pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland,

And my traveling companions
Are ghosts and empty sockets
I'm looking at ghosts and empties,
But I've reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland,

There is a girl in New York City,
Who calls herself the human trampoline,
And sometimes when I'm falling flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
Whoa so this is what she means,
She means we're bouncing into Graceland,
And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart,
Everybody sees you're blown apart,
Everybody feels the wind blow,

In Graceland Graceland,
I'm going to Graceland,
For reasons I cannot explain
There's some part of me wants to see
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love every ending
Or maybe there's no obligations now,
Maybe I've a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The concept of the memory of sunny afternoons

All those years ago, and it feels like yesterday. Six of us on Udayan's roof, playing cricket and listening to Automatic for the People for the first time on a brilliant sunny afternoon. I'm sure I would have loved R.E.M no matter which setting I first heard them in - that band was drawing me towards itself long before I started listening to decent music. The first R.E.M track I heard was Crush With Eyeliner, sometime in middle school; the next, seven years later, was Losing My Religion. I loved both equally, and it drove me nuts to think that a band could sound so unbelievably different from song to song.

But Automatic was special. For all its images of death and old age and elegies to tragic heroes, there's an uplifting, almost spiritual quality to most of the songs - Everybody Hurts is the radio-friendly example, though Sweetness Follows is ultimately more cathartic. That's not to say that R.E.M is invoking Jesus (they're agnostic - remember Talk about the Passion). What they do here instead is what they have always done in their songs: zero in on specific moments, and then, through straight talk and epigrams, discordant notes and aching melodies, capture them in a snapshot. "Their world has flat backgrounds and little need to sleep but to dream", sings Stipe on The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight, giving a voice to all those who go through life envying cartoon characters. Sweetness Follows, with its powerful waves of feedback sounds exactly like a family mourning its dead, yet trying at the same time to handle the whole affair with dignity.

So I fell in love with the album on that sunny afternoon. I also fell in love with the concept of the memory of specific, memorable sunny afternoons spent with friends, the impact of which you realise years later when the friends are no longer around, but the memories stick around like friendly ghosts. I have since expanded this concept to include other times of the day (mornings, evenings, three in the night), different kinds of weather (windswept but sunny, balmy and buzzing with mosquitos) and new forms of interaction (furtive meetings, heart to hearts).

Its sad, though. After trying to write about one here, and shaking my head at the results, I'd agree with Paul Simon saying "I know they'd never match my sweet imagination...everything looks better in black and white". You just had to be there...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

You can't prosecute what you can't hear

Louie Louie is a song that nearly all of you have heard, even if you don't know you've heard it. The first three seconds of piano are instantly recognisable, the riff seems to have been around since Neanderthal times. Its been feautured in dozens of memorably mediocre movies and is a garage rock classic in the same league as Wild Thing or Gloria. What is even more brilliant is that thousands and thousands of people have been singing it all these years without knowing the actual words. I am one of these people and I declare without a hint of defensiveness that its virtually impossible to figure out a single coherent sentence. Everything about the song seems to contribute to this - right down from the deliciously thick, voice-buried-in-the-mix production to the classic sneering (leering? jeering?) vocal. The Kingsmen were never heard of before or after this. It must be true - some of us are sent down here for a purpose.

Anyway, because Louie Louie was so damn difficult to understand, people figured there must be something wrong with it. For a detailed analysis of why things went so haywire (the FBI got involved) click on the link below. Its probably the only site around which gives you four different versions of the song (three dirty, one real).

Friday, February 15, 2008

The rest of our lives

"Hear this song. It’ll change your life” said the unsettlingly beautiful Natalie Portman. I finally managed to, yesterday.

For a while, there were just the two of them. He use to swear and she hated that about him. But otherwise they were happy. It seemed natural that they would grow old together. She convinced herself it was just a matter of time.

He never lost control of himself. Even when he was drinking, he’d just grow quieter and quieter. ‘Dance’, she would say, ‘Its only me...’ ‘I can’t’, would be the unvarying reply. She used to say the only time his feet left the ground was when he was climbing trees. He loved to climb. He said the view helped him to see things more clearly.

He must have started to see things a bit too clearly because he developed what they call a mind-set. I guess you could just say he set his mind on certain things and there was no looking back from then on. And like so many people with no particular dream besides the humble desire to remain in the company of the one they choose, the sight of someone else so inspired filled her with a deep emptiness. She began to question whether he needed her at all; when he laughed and said he didn’t think it necessary to answer, this belief hardened. Finally one autumn evening, she left for her parents' house and did not return.

In the months that followed, people would stop by and ask him how he was, but he would just look up slowly, curse the town, and get on with his work. He worked through that winter as if lit by a fire no one else could see. It must have been a very unforgiving fire, for though his manner reflected heat, there was no sign of warmth.

Years went by, and the only word that was used to describe him after a while was ‘constant’. He never was as successful as he thought he would be. But he never stopped working. It was as if he had been sentenced to a lifetime of hard labour, except he wasn’t in jail. Or maybe he was, in a way.

Then something strange happened. One autumn evening, he had a surprise visitor. Time had etched some surface changes, but he could have recognised her by her footsteps, her breathing. She looked so familiar he wondered if it was just his memory playing tricks. He had aged considerably. ‘Old and bony’ was how she described him later.

‘The moment I saw her I realised I was looking in on the good life I might be doomed never to find. I wanted to say so much, but my mind was full and I didn’t know where to start. In desperation, I asked her if she was hungry. She said yes, so I went into the kitchen, but there was no bread. In frustration I shouted ‘God speed all the bakers at dawn, may they all cut their thumbs, and bleed into their buns 'till they melt away.’ When I came out and saw her, there was a strange look in her eyes and I knew I had upset her, just like before. In desperation I started speaking and the words just kept flowing from me...'

She would later tell us what he said, word for word. ‘Am I too dumb to refine? Look at me now… I’m old and my head's to the wall and I'm lonely… All these years I just kept thinkin’, what if you had 'a took to me. If you’d 'a took to me like a gull takes to the wind…well, I’d 'a jumped from my tree. I’d 'a danced like the king of the eyesores. And the rest of our lives would 'a fared well, of that I am sure…’