Friday, 11 September 2009

Leening's Manipur, Our Manipur...

Request: Please read the whole post before you make any judgment about me. :) I love Manipur!

Leening Meetei is my classmate at University of Hyderabad. If there is one word that describes him, it's Manipur; he eats, drinks and sleeps Manipur. When a research or writing assignment is given in class, no effort needs to be taken to guess what Leening would do. It would invariably be about Manipur.

I have very often been amused by this. I am a very proud Malayali; but I do not take up Kerala for every damn thing like he does. I have often thought; why such forceful assertion?

The other day, Leening was doing rounds in the class with a signature petition. It was addressed to the President of India against the fake encounter killing that happened in Manipur recently that took the life of Chonkham Sanjit (27). My turn was over and I was casually watching him. Then, I saw something in his eyes that I had never seen before - some amount of passion and a lot more of pain.

That's when I started thinking more deeply than I used to. Earlier, my thought process was something like this. 'With the very little knowledge I have of this huge issue, I know that most North Eastern states demand autonomy. Yet, there is a North East quota in my university (and probably in many other places in the country) and they are all duly filled. I mean, if you want to get separated from this country, why use the infrastructure here? That's sheer selfishness! If you want to take advantage of the facilities here, might as well stick to the sovereignty of the country!'

The pain in his eyes told me that he and I were different. I was born in a part of India that, post independence, has not witnessed a massive conflict of any sort. A place where democracy is probably at its best with everyone taking their right to life and freedom of expression for granted. I have hardly seen a person from the Armed Forces at work in the part of Kerala that I live. My perception of violence, freedom, civic sense and security is different because of this.

Leening, on the other hand, has probably spent his childhood in fear. To quote Tehelka, "Life in Manipur is like a lottery. You are alive because you are lucky." He did most of his education in Andhra Pradesh because the situation in his state was not condusive. He hasn't seen his family for months together now, because conflicts are consistent back home and travelling during our last vacation would have been dangerous. He has probably witnessed the death of a relative in the hands of people who are supposed to ensure security - the Armed Forces.

I have now realised that a comparison between him and me is futile; we are so darn different. It is because of the North East quota, that I used to detest, that Leening is being able to give wings to his dreams. It is because of his belief that change is possible in this country, despite all the atrocities that his state is witnessing, that he is still going on with that signature campaign. If he does not deserve to be a citizen of this India as comfortably as I am, with all the security that I was born with and am used to, then who else is this India for?

Many North Eastern Indians migrate to other parts of India in the hope of a better life. But is it any different for them? Armed Forces may not attack or kill without a reason, but what about civilians? They attack with detesting looks that speak on the lines of "Why the hell have you come over to our place?"

Just the other day, I was comfortably seated on an APSRTC bus. A North Eastern family comprising a young man, an almost-girl-like woman and their tiny kids got into the bus. The mother clad in a saree was a far cry from the stylish and sleek looking North Eastern girls I have seen on my campus, I thought. I noticed that people maintained a safe distance from the rough looking short man as though he was a terrorist, an intruder.

As the kids dozed off leaning to their mother's shoulder, I kept on gazing much to the discomfort of that woman. I was thinking how similar these four human beings were to any other random family in that bus. Yet, how different! It wouldn't be easy for them to get a house to live or a job to earn a living. The struggle to garner an identity was clearly visible on all the four faces. Even if they wanted to think of themselves as Indians, we the 'original Indians' would not let them do so.

Unity in Diversity is probably the most overrated myth that is taught in schools. You will grow up to learn that equality, let alone unity, is still a dream for many in this country.

Which is why I love you Debo! I love you for the fact that you are one of the few people who can think broad enough to assume a North Eastern Indian as close to you as I would assume a Malayali to me.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

An Ode About Onam...

It is Thiruvonam today; an auspicious day for any Malayali, no matter what his/her religion is. A time to rejoice despite any distress you may have. A time to bond with family whichever corner of the world you may be in, otherwise. And here I am, sitting in the department computer lab, seething in emotional pain, to put it in the least dramatic way as possible!

I have not even taken bath; forget having had a sadya with payasam. On the day when a vegan feast with diverse delicacies should have graced my palate for lunch, I gobbled up a KFC Zinger burger with vengeance. Either a sadya, or nothing close to it at all, I thought. This year, I angrily put aside my own rule of ten day vegetarianism during the Atham-Thiruvonam period.

I still remember my first Onam away from home. It was in 2006, soon after I joined Google. Having joined just in May, August came too soon and with all the training that was happening, it seemed rational not to take leaves. I did not give much thought to it as it seemed natural to miss a festival or two. I was officially 'out of home' and 'on my own,' right?

WRONG! The day dawned and I started off with a marathon on the telephone all smiles and ended up weeping like a lost child. I wished most of my realtives in the process and vouched to each of them that it was terrible to be doing so over telephone. Having heard stories of an Onasadya that had happened in the previous year at Google office, I expected the lunch of the day to wipe off my copious tears. To my utter dismay, the caterers had changed and the new guys did not know about the festival! I ate rice and porial and tried to satiate myself in vain. I still cannot manage to put together the pieces of a broken me of that day. I hadn't realised until then that I was so emotionally dependent on my family and promised myself that another Onam shall not pass by this way, without them being beside me.

I kept that promise and dutifully went home in the two subsequent years. First, while I was still with Google, and the second, after I joined UoH. I hate bunking classes normally; but Onam was a good enough reason to do so for a week. But this year, since a plan was on to celebrate Achan's shashtipoorthi in the last week of September, I had to make a compromise. Missing two weeks of classes in the same month could cause some trouble while registering for the end semester examinations. Thus, at the altar of educational insurgency, I sacrificed my need to be home.

I was thinking a while ago that it is just another day in Hyderabad. It is a regular working day, with not much buzz about Onam apart from the mad rush at Kairali restaurant situated at about 2km distance. Still, the day is so different for me. In the heart of heart, I keep reminded that everyone is celebrating back home and making merry. It is scary to think whether they are missing me or not. What if they are not? What if I am not that indispensable?

Worse still, unlike in 2006, I cannot even make a promise to myself that I would be home next year for Onam. I just don't know what I'd be doing next year, around this time!

It is funny how Onam is no more just a festival for me. With an assorted collection of memories that include tidbits of sleepless shoots during my Kairali TV days and impromptu trips with cousins and elders to touristy locations associated with it, Onam has become a habitual indulgence for me. One that makes me sulk, if I don't abide to it. Sad that I did not indulge this time; but only to reinvent my ties with my roots..

Happy Onam to all of you!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Birthday Recollections..

I was making a quick flashback journey through the past year, now that I am a year older; only to realise with joy that it had been phenomenal for me! Some highlights:

I quit the cushy job at Google after much deliberation. While some dear ones (read my parents) were happy that I finally did it, some others (mostly friends) made a verdict that I am insane. Who else will leave a job with Google for God's sake, right? Well, stories I am hearing these days say that lots of people actually do. I was one of the early ones to take the tough decision before the management did it! I miss the pancakes at breakfast and the almost-free massages at Tangerine Spa; but it is okay.

I joined a public university for my Masters. People uh-uh ed and advised me against it. Most of them wondered why I did not consider greener pastures like the USA and the UK when I could have. However, I stayed unperturbed and stuck to my plans. I was always sure that my country's infrastructure and facilities are enough for me to succeed in life. If I choose to make use of it, it will definitely come to my use. Believe me, it is happening. I shall now treasure that derogatory expression on the face an HR guy from Google (also my friend) to cheer me up a tad bit more when I graduate with flying colours next year. :)

I made the right decision while choosing between the two Central Universities in Hyderabad. The rank list at English and Foreign Languages University which had my name beaming on the top and the one at University of Hyderabad which had me as Number 2 on the waiting list for the stream of my choice, suggested the obvious. Being the attention seeker that I am, I wanted to study in the institution where I would be the apple of the eye from the beginning. Thankfully, I did not succumb to that dumb thought. I asked innumerable people what the right decision would be; sometimes to the level of annoying some patient friends. I took admission at EFLU since that happened first and I was not sure if UoH would graduate me from the waiting list to the confirmed list. Finally, while waiting for the admission week at UoH, I decided to bid good bye to my ego and arrive at a sensible conclusion. Confirmation of the stream I wanted (Print & New Media) = UoH. Allocation of what UoH thinks I fit into (Advertising & PR) = EFLU. As always, God showed me the right path and gave me the right opportunity - to study in the country's second best university, in the stream I wanted.

I figured in the top scorer list in both the semesters. In the first semester if I came second, God was gracious enough to promote me to the first position in the second semester. I always knew that pursuing one's passion in the form of education works wonders. Joining the rat race and crumbling later is so easy. But figuring out what you want from life and struggling a little to get it is so rewarding.

I got a cool new bunch of friends. All the girls are younger than me and most of the boys are older than me. I just meant that it is a group with a lot of age diversity contrary to my scary thought before joining that I would be the granny in the class because of the two year sabbatical I took from studies. So what if I am the eldest girl in the class? I also have the maturity that comes along with age and most of the younger ones respect me for that. Quite an ego boost for a Leo, you see!

I became an RJ doing shows in Hindi at Hyderabad! Who would have thought that all the K serials I watched meticulously in Kerala would prove beneficial one day? The intelligentsia of this nation may slam Ekta Kapoor for dishing out mindless soaps (Dr. Vinod Pavarala says though that there is nothing called mindless television; everyone finds some meaning in everything). But I am eternally grateful to her for replenishing my dry Hindi resources from a Kerala state syllabus school with free flowing saral Hindi through Kutumb, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and what not! Even if it was pyaar-zindagi-rishta-vishwas-bandhan ki baatein, I learnt the language there, and I flaunt it today to earn some pocket money. Thanks to Akkachi too for inculcating the interest for Rashtrabhasha in me through a culture of serial and film watching at home.

I became an avid blogger. Having joined a course in Print and New Media, I figured that I better do it rather than feel sorry later. My blog has now become a baby of mine who I had delivered prematurely and left unattended. I rediscovered the joy of this particular motherhood, also because of the lovely child Naags has raised.

I spoke to Achan direct dil se about something very special. I have a history of hysteric ways of expression of love for Amma; with Achan, I have always been subtle. But when it came to talking about something very very important, I thought Achan would lend a keener ear. Amma, of course, joined the discussion soon.

For all these and much more, God, I raise a toast to you.

PS: I also got a fantastic haircut done. I was so impressed with the salon and the lady who did it, I indulged in a hair spa experience as well. Lots of 'wellwishers' told me that I look a lot younger with the open, layered hair. In turn, I also take better care of it.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Why is it like this?

I don't think I have given vent to my frustration here, ever before. But I just decided that I should do it.

Rainbow is the FM channel of All India Radio, as many of you may know. This meagre soul is one of the RJs of its Hyderabad channel 101.9. I have been doing the show Geet Gata Chal every Friday from February this year until now, with a break of two months in between when I went home.

Right from the time I started doing the show, until I left in May for the break, I was handling random Bollywood news and gossips for the content of the show. It was a smooth run and there was absolutely no feedback that came in from anywhere except my lovely listeners who always praised me over telephone calls.

And then, I took the break. And came back. I thought that spicing the show up a little bit by making a more specific format would be a good idea. My programme executive was on leave during this time and I did not get a chance to discuss this with him. So I went ahead and restructured the random Bollywood rattlings into a Friday movie release special. Fridays are the days when movies release and I started giving updates and inside stories about the ones releasing on that day. I made sure each talk I did was information packed and thus was doing the show with much more interest and vigour than when I had left.

Enter my supervisor. He is angry that I did not discuss this with him while he was not available in the first place. He tells me a thousand things about how there is a specific format for the show and that I cannot please my whims and fancies when he and I both know that there is nothing of that sort. He talks to the minute detail of a major theme and a minor theme for each jocktalk while I am grumbling in my mind that deconstructing something as creative as RJing to this level will spoil the fun of it.

It's not that I don't get the point. I do. It is a mass medium and our target is a mass audience. I need to please all of them and not just a small group who thinks like me and likes what I say now. I have to please the lowest common denominator and they are not as intelligent as I think they are. This is what he wants me to understand and I do.

But still, why is it that I cannot speak my mind and make sense? Why is it that the listeners (or audience for another medium) are constantly underestimated by those who are at the helm? I talk sense even when it is about Bollywood and give loads of information that may not feature in the frivolous talks that others indulge in. Yet, I am the one asked to change and not them. Why?

Aren't Hyderabadis mature enough to take any stuff other than pyaar dosti ki bekaar baatein?

Why, Lord, why?

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

A Letter to my Ammoomma..


I have grown up hearing liberal amounts of commentry on how I resemble you of younger days. I would often stare with wonder at the black and white picture frame that adorns the top row of the photo wall at Harichandanam to draw a connection. The picture is of a young and fiery woman in her graduate gown who is refusing to let out the smile that is revolting to splurge out of her lips. The picture is of you.

I have always known that I have a great lineage to boast about, that I do not have an ordinary woman for a grand mother. When my friends told stories of weak grandparents who could barely walk, I had a power woman at home who would write pages and pages of content without a coffee break. The long list of your degrees that would put any modern academician to shame, the sheer number of countries you have visited as a scholar, the confidence with which you spoke English long after you crossed seventy - everything about you has been special.

On the other hand, you did those wonderful things that made me feel that I have a normal, doting grandmother. You told and retold the story of Cinderella every night yielding to my boring demand for the same story before I went to sleep. You made yummy Unniyappams so that I came home to a tasty treat after a tiring day at school. You inculcated love for plants in me and answered innumerable doubts of mine whether a particular plant can be grown with a thai or kambu. You also drew a lot of record pictures for me because you were good at drawing. When I come to think of it, what was it that you werent' good at? Cooking, painting, writing, teaching, loving, communicating - you were good at everything!

The other day, I received a book that Amma sent through a friend of mine. It is a biography of Mannathu Padmanabhan, your grandfather and the founder of Nair Service Society. The book is written by you.

The first time I held it in my hand, it was not the gleaming portrait of Vallyappooppan on the cover page that I saw. The effort you have been relentlessly putting into it for years, despite failing health - that's what I saw. I glanced through the pages, read some lines here and there, and I got a sense of the focus you might have had throughout the period that you wrote it without using anything but pen and paper. No computer or any other form of technology whatsoever to help.

I do not know if I would be ever able to tell you what I feel about you; especially after seeing the book that has been your dream for a long time, which now is a reality. You are such a perfect living example of how to make every dream possible. Achan wrote to me about your achievement and mentioned that you have defeated the concept of Alzheimer's Disease by completing such a monumental work at the age of 84. All I would like to tell you is that I am charmed. I can feel the depth and volume of the power I am inheriting through you. I am just so proud.

As I retrospect, I am reminded of the struggles you have gone through to get where you are - your childlike complaints about dear ones (never about me though, right?), the easiness with which you cry, the constant insecurity of being alone. I know that even in the pinnacle of achievements, you weren't completely happy for reasons known to you and me. But then, what is life without some rough patches? God does not give everything to everyone; but please know that you are a truly blessed soul.

I am at a stage of life where making the right moves is very important. I have to take decisions almost everyday which will affect the way my life will mould itself tomorrow. I want you to know that, at this point, my single most inspiration and motivation is you.

More than everything, I want you to know that I love you. I may not talk to you that often or see you that often. But I do not struggle any more to see the connection between you and me. I close my eyes and look within, and I see only you.

Congratulations on making yet another dream come true. Congratulations on being who you are.



Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The Joys of eBay Shopping!

I do not remember when I discovered the khazana of possibilities - eBay.

A couple of years ago, when my daily bread from Google depended on how many ads I reviewed a day, the word eBay had a different connotation. Easy-to-review ads which boost productivity, performance review, salary proposition. etc. as much as wolves in jackal skin because they have hidden errors that do not catch the eye.

From that time, I always looked at it as a 'US thing.' The generalisation that we Indians prefer to do shopping physically and that online shopping is for lazy people in the West added to the complication of credit/debit card fraud - eBay was never a part of my thought process.

And then one day, I saw an advertisement of - eBay with an Indian twist. Being the dream come true innovator I am (take a bow, Mr. Everett Rogers, you were absolutely right with your classification), I tried it out. A quick registration is all what I did in my first visit.

As if they read my middle class mind, eBay soon started sending me emails with luring offers. Yes, their strategy has worked and I have started online shopping!

A month back, I got this email alert of a Bajaj DVD Player with USB coming at a discounted price of Rs. 1700. There was another offer running simultaneously where eBay was giving away free gifts for all purchases above Rs. 1000. Bling bling went the red alarms and I remembered my friend who had mentioned dreaming a DVD player, but had a tight budget. A quick check with the friend and thirty minutes later, I had paid for it through PaisaPay! My friend got a DVD player within the budget and and it brought along the joy of a free 2Gb pen drive..

I am sure the technology employed at eBay sensed a potential ransacker sitting in Hyderabad and browsing their stuff. The very next week, I got another email saying flat Rs. 250 off on any item. Five minutes later, eyelashes fluttering, I was innocently ordering a 2GB pen drive for Rs. 120. My sense of logic must have been really kaput considering I had gotten hold of this less than two months ago. But then, you can't carry such a darling gizmo anywhere and everywhere, right? For example, using it to carry a silly file that needs to be printed out would be a criminal offence. So that's the logic - my hard disk is for my movies, music and moments only.

Today, it happened again. Another email with the same offer of flat Rs. 250 off. My grey cells went into a revolution and finally I figured it. Books! Mad browsing for an hour followed by one purchase - The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho for Rs. 15.

All the uninitiated - I would like to enlighten you about the way these offers work. They send you a promo code in an email and you have to paste it in the final step of payment. After The Alchemist, I zeroed in on another one called My Friend Sancho by blogstar Amit Varma and frantically went on to pay just Rs. 5 for it - but alas! The code was already used - for Paulo Coelho, of course.

Disappointed, I tried creating another id to see if that will work. It did not. In utter dismay, I realized that it is a unique code and works only for one user, for one transaction.

No, I did not give up. I added all my potential buys to my shopping cart. You know what I am doing right now? Keeping an eye on my inbox - to see when the next Rs. 250 promo comes, so that I can buy books for multiples of five rupees.

Credit card fraud - what is that? :P

Friday, 10 July 2009

A Facebook Message and the Memories it brought..

A message that came to me on Facebook this morning made me look behind - the paths of life that I crossed and reached where I am right now. That message was from Santoshettan, more familiar to Malayalis as Santosh Palee or Palee.

An eighteen year old with bright dreams of being in the limelight - that was me in a nutshell in 2003. It was also the time when Palee was reigning many a Malayali heart including mine with a program called Kairali On Demand. One of the many things I did to realize my dream was writing long letters to him with program ideas in the hope that he would just pick me to anchor them!

One day, that much awaited call came as well - to give a screen test. For me, hearing his voice across the line was an achievement in itself. He was an icon of sorts who encapsulated the ultimate media dream for me - someone who had to come on screen from behind by sheer coincidence and stayed on gloriously. The screen test was truly just a bonus.

I cannot imagine the nervousness I experienced that day. Probably, something I have never ever felt before or after, in my life - in that measure. I vividly remember his lady love being in the studio for the shoot of a program called Weekender. Of course, I did not know at that point that there was a love story going on. ;)

The screen test was totally uneventful. I was asked to perform an introduction for the program Mail A Scene. The otherwise ultra talkative, oversmart me just shrinked into a coy little thing with a puppy face in the great producer's presence. Needless to say, my performance was nowhere close to what I could have done and I don't even think he gave it a thought whether to take me aboard or not.

I thought, there goes my future in my dream channel into the dustbin with a silly piece of script I made.

I moved on, appeared for a screen test at Indiavision and did much much better this time. May be, because I cared much less if I would get through or not. And of course, Santoshettan was not there to distract!

I made it and I faced the camera for the first time for a programme there. Destiny had other plans though. Eleven months down the lane, I sensed another opportunity at Kairali with another producer. I wrote to him about my experience at Indiavision and I was on!

It indeed was a dream come true. Kairali had the most creative graphics team of all Malayalam channels at that point and my imagination knew no bounds about the riot of colours I would have for accompaniment on screen. Yet, somewhere inside, the sense of loss lingered that I did not become an anchor for a Palee programme.

Kairali became home to me soon. I bumped into him very frequently in the studio, yet continued to be star struck each time it happened. My producer was a good friend of Palee, so there was no dearth of insider news about Palee's life - professional and personal. In that way, I was in a much better place than most of his fans, even though I did not realize the anchor dream.

Life goes on. So did mine. I relocated to Hyderabad, much away from my media dreams, doing totally different things. Malayalam Television soon became a thing of past to me, something that I do not have access to even when I go back home, thanks to Kunjunni's addiction to Pogo.

But then, there is Facebook and orkut. Many lost media connections got revived especially on FB. Among them are Santoshettan of course and also Aroonz (Arun P G), a great graphics artist who did some of the most fantastic backdrops for me at Kairali. He is ready with his first movie work - Puthiya Mukham. Wish you the best, buddy!

Coming back to our hero, let me share the message he sent that made me take this walk down the memory lane - unabridged!

Two days before me and sree konny wr sitting tgthr for chilling.. ,me confessed to him that I cudnt recognised your talent at that time, or conveniently forgottn to uplift your softskills,due to the lack of a good prgrm which suits to your persona..I mean it..

Today I am really feelin proud bout you.. while walking thru d corridors of memories I can recollect those wonderful letters you wrote to me with poetic touches. "Ardramaanasam"... I used to call u like that... nywayz.. go ahead babes... my heartfelt best wishes to you....

When people say some dreams should reamain unfulfilled so that we feel the need to keep going, I usually disagree. Realising dreams is an extremely important thing for me. I think I just changed my mind. May be, some things should remain unachieved. God can keep watching, and based on your track record, can gift bigger and better blessings. Like the one I got today. :)

PS : Just in case you have not noticed, the name that Santoshettan gave me - I adopted it for life. My Internet persona Ardramaanasam owes someone a lot, you see! :)

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Kambakht Yeh Kya Hai!

The joy of watching a movie on its day of release is out of this world (so what if it is not the first show?). I just got lucky last Friday and managed to get the last two tickets for my friend and myself at PVR - for Kambakht Ishq (KI).

Sigh! But I won't indulge in a full and complete movie review for this one - just because it is not worth it. A film becomes 'analyzable' only when it has met some basic requirements like... a storyline?

But I am of the belief that a film is 'watchable' if it has anything at all. A storyline would a good thing to have. But even if that is missing, I am willing to pay Rs. 1oo and watch a movie in the theatre if there are sufficient 'other stuff' in the package. Read on to find out some of that stuff for which you might want to see KI:

  • Guys may want to watch it for Kareena. Her skin show. Her figure. Girls may want to watch it for Kareena too. Her attitude. Her stilettos. Kareena proves that acting is a comfortable forte for her no matter how stupid the script is. Attitude is definitely something that only Bebo can pull off the way she does. Simrata (aka Bebo) of KI underlines this fact.

  • People of my species - who hear about Hollywood movies all the time from everyone around but have not seen too many of them - would want to watch KI for a peekaboo of Brandon Routh, Denise Richards and the big guy - Sylvester Stallone who looks like the old pancake-packed Kamal Hassan from the movie Indian/Hindustani.

  • Each one of you might want to watch it for the exotic locales of Los Angeles. Oh yeah, there was also Italy stuffed in between so that hero and heroine could sing a song. But I like the Italy in Bachnaa Ae Haseeno way better! :D

  • Then..... Yeah! Amrita Arora's skin show/bikini act in a dream sequence. Poor Aftab Shivdasani could only fantacize his wife in bikinis. Boys who want to give Aftab company can go to the theatres and watch Amu sizzle.

  • The drama queen in me liked the scene where Akshay and Sylvester come together on stage for an award ceremony. Akshay gives a very emotional speech about our tradition of touching the feet of parents/elders/Guru during times of achievements. He follows it up with the words "Let me bow down to the Guru of Action, Stallone" and lo! He touched Rambo's feet with total conviction. Many of you may find it too melodramatic, but I felt it was electric! :) Go watch KI just for this scene.

  • Since we just had a dry summer without ample dose of Bollywood, may be, you would want to go for KI just like that and enjoy humour here and there. But surprisingly, those few instances of humour also do not come from Khiladi Kumar.

If you do not believe in movies without a storyline, here is why you should avoid KI:

  • Akshay Kumar claimed that KI is India's answer to Mr & Mrs. Smith. I have not seen this Brangelina flick, but I know Akshay's claim is totally untrue. Apparently, it is most remembered for the chemistry between the lead actors, but there is no such magic in KI - except for a very candid kiss that Kareena uses to zip her man's lips in the climax.

  • Dialogues in a mainstream big budget movie cannot get more boring. And I still cannot recover from the fact that Anvita Dutt Guptan who made me proud as a girl with her work in Dostana and Bachnaa Ae Haseeno penned the same. In these films, her lines were so sexily sleazy, yet classy. In KI, she had to attempt about 10 strokes to make audience laugh once - with an Akshay in hand who usually has comedy even in his movements! I am astonished that she and her co-writers (that includes the director Sabbir Khan) did not realize throughout the making that a battle between the sexes cannot be established through name calling (read dog and bitch).

  • Why Anu Malik/Salim Sulaiman, why? Copy some tunes from Arabia, jazz it up with some Jhankar Beats, add some Desi twist, do whatever - but produce some good music! KI numbers were so.. *yawn* in spite of a beautiful heroine, brawny hero and plush locales.

  • Nothing can substitute the backbone for human beings, right? Just like that, the lack of even a reasonable story does major damage to this movie. I wonder why the producer Sajid Nadiadwala invested so much money in this flick to the details of an eight lakh worth dress for Kareena. A watch left in hero's stomach during an operation by the surgeon heroine and added complication in the form of a love story so that the watch can be taken out. Beat that!

Monday, 6 July 2009

Fighting for a Reason...

I had told you about my middle class mania last week, right? Please do not confuse that with what I am going to tell you. This one is not about money, it is all about my belief. (Thank you Uma, for this cool oneliner.)
Maximum Retail Price. We know that is the expanded form of MRP. We know that is the 'printed price' on most goods, and the price that we should 'go by' especially with regard to FMCGs.

But how many people actually check it on a regular basis? Forget the regularity, even from time to time? I know this depends on a lot of factors. One - the class that you belong to. If you drive around in a Merc, it is less than likely that you will go to a supermarket in person, let alone check prices. I am talking about an average Indian here - the Mango Indian as JK calls himself. Two - if the product in question is new to you or not. It is very likely that the Mango Indian will check what the price is if it is a new product - mostly by asking the shopkeeper 'kya daam hai,' 'ithinethra' etc. but sometimes otherwise too.
I don't own a Merc and I do my shopping myself. I am a Mango Indian who buys new things like Parle Golden Arc Pineapple-stuffed rolls and old, time tested things like Dove soaps. Yet, each time, every single time, I check the MRP religiously.
Take a look at these situations and answer in your mind, okay? Just so that you know where you stand in this test of mine.
  • You are about to board a train for a long distance journey. You go to the nearby stall on your platform. You ask for a bottle of mineral water. Will you ask 'Kitna Hai' and pay what he says or check the MRP and pay the amount?
  • You are returning home after dinner with your friends. The gang feels like having something sweet and cold down the throats. You stop the car at the first visible Kwality Walls/Amul guy on the road. A orders a Cornetto, B orders a Feast and you get a Chocobar. Will you ask 'Total kitna?' or check the MRP and do the math yourself?
  • You are walking towards an office to get something done. You are dead tired and go to a pan shop to get a bottle of juice. Will you ask 'Kitna Hai' or check the MRP printed in feeble black on the glass bottle?

It is very likely that you answered either a Former to all or a Latter to all. If it is the former, have peace. 99% Indians belong to your tribe. If it is the latter, welcome aboard, you are a member of my club!
I have travelled long distances without a bottle of water because the stall owner said he wants fifteen for a Kinley water bottle when I gave him twelve – the printed MRP. I have given my favourite Amul Kulfi away, all upset and angry with the vendor who thought getting more than what’s printed is his birthright. I have rendered a 1.5 hour long Geet Gata Chal show on Rainbow FM exhausted and thirsty – just because the Panwallah outside All India Radio wanted 20 for the Minute Maid Pulpy Orange bottle that actually costs fifteen. All for my belief – that being able to buy things at MRP is my right as a citizen.
One could easily think that I suffered in each of those battles. But I have felt immensely proud of myself each time I stood and fought for my rights. Except for once, never has any vendor obliged and given me the stuff at MRP. But I still feel it is a battle won, because someone is questioning the wrong they are doing.
One could also feel sympathetic towards the vendor and tell me, “What’s wrong with you? Let the poor guy have a rupee extra.” My apologies there. If you need a bigger business margin, go for a business that offers you the same. For God’s sake, selling goods above their MRP is a legal offence. In a wave of sympathy, will you ignore a Panwallah selling micro drug packs and think let the dude make some money?
Until now, I have not been able to get hold of a Consumer Care number where I can report such cases. Soon, I will get that to ensure that the wrong is not just questioned, but overthrown by establishment of justice. Big words for a Kinley bottle at Rs. 12, an Amul Kulfi at Rs. 12, and a Minute Maid for Rs. 15, I know. But then, as I said in the beginning, it is not about the money, it is about my belief.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Loss of a Legend. Lohithadas.

Film personalities are like fireflies. They light up the lives of many, and then fade into oblivion. Hardly do cinegoers ponder over their deaths or disappearances for more than a day. But this time around, it is just so different. Forget the cliche that 'He was a pillar of the Malayalam film industry' and all that. Just recall his films, and you will know what I mean.

Thaniyavarthanam, Kireedom, His Highness Abdullah, Bharatham, Amaram, Kamaladalam, Vatsalyam, Thoovalkkottaram..

The power of his pen was such that right from the first film he wrote, the industry knew that here was a man to be reckoned with. Thaniyavarthanam, his first screenplay filmed by Sibi Malayil is still a seething wound in the minds of Malayalis. This team went on to make more cinema that crushed our hearts and left us shattered. Those melodramas changed the way we experienced cinema until then.

Thanks to the justice Lohi always showed to his characters, some of the most memorable performances of our superstars, without which they would have hardly attained the stature they have today, came through his films. Mohanlal won his first national award through Bharatham penned by Lohi. However, my personal favourite of Lal-Lohi combination is Nandagopan from Kamaladalam.

Mind you, it is not just the superstars who were blessed by his pen. Nedumudi Venu in His Highness Abdullah, KPAC Lalitha in Amaram, Thilakan in Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal, Bindu Panicker in Joker, Oduvil Unnikrishnan in Thoovalkkottaram are all fine examples that Lohi's characters, even if they are not the protagonists, are always well-etched and give a lot of scope to the actors. Another character that comes to my mind right now is the Muthachhan from Thoovalkkottaram played by Babu Swamy. I am incapable to think of another screenwriter who could have made such an inconsequential character look so important.

A few months before his untimely death, Lohi had opined that Malayalam cinema lacked a new generation of actors, and the existing ones are too old and overused. As much as he was a man of perfect words, he was also a man of action. When he turned a director, this is why he took the effort to find new faces who suited his characters than write stories for the establised actors who have minimum guarantee. Lakshmi Gopalaswami, Manya, Meera Jasmine, Bhama, Vinu Mohan - so many of them in that list apart from Manju Warrier and Samyuktha Varma who also got introduced through his screenplays.

Somehow, I am in awe for Lohi, the screenplay writer more than Lohi, the director. When he debuted as a director with Bhoothakkannadi, it seemed the most natural thing to do for a creatively mature writer. However, none of his directorial ventures struck a chord with the audience as much as his screenplays directed by Sibi, Bharathan or Satyan Anthikkad. And before he could prove this observation wrong, he left the silver screen forever, much like most of his films - leaving behind a lingering pain.

Any Malayali who has witnessed the late 80s and 90s of Malayalam cinema will know that his talent was of a different leagure altogether - one that can never be replaced with. And yet, this country never attested it with a National award. May be, the juries knew that this man never cared about anything except creating ripples with human emotions.

I am so glad my first dose of memorable films came from him. For all those unwritten screen poems by Lohi that left with him - Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.

Image Courtesy :

Friday, 26 June 2009

Middle Class Maniac - Me!

The characteristics attributed to middle classism are many. But I am dealing with only one right now. That’s regarding money, honey!!

I can recall umpteen incidents right from my school-going age until like day before yesterday when my friends labeled me ‘cheap,’ ‘stingy,’ and what not. All thanks to my nature of being extra cautious with money no matter which stage of life I was in – studying or working.

Take a sneak peak!

*I prefer bus to auto rickshaws. I developed a strong hate feeling for autos at Kottayam where they do not have meters unlike in bigger cities. Which means the driver’s word or price is the law and I cannot accept that. I always need a visible proof to the money that I am spending. Hyderabad autos of course have meters, but not all drivers turn them on. Some quote fancy prices and I walk away without even responding. At some other times, I bargain madly with the drivers to get a price that I think is fair. I might be doing this at the oddest time of the day (err, night) possible when another auto is not in the vicinity. Dangerous enough, huh? And then, there are buses that get you to your destination for 5 INR in the place of 50 INR in auto. So what if you have to walk 100m to get to the bus stop?

#And my friends go “But why? Why would you want to stand squeezed through a grueling experience with your face inside a smelly armpit?”

^But are they capable of comprehending the beauty of bus rides that let you enjoy a city from an elevated view? NO.

*I choose quantity over quality, especially with clothes. If you tell me I have a choice between four bright coloured simple cotton Kurtis from General Bazaar and one ultra elegant Biba Kurta from Hyderabad Central that costs more than all the other four put together, I will definitely go for the former.

#And my friends go “Thank God, everyone in this world is not like you. Otherwise there would not have been something called class.”

^But do they understand that having the variety of four colours and Kurtis is far more exciting than owning one single piece which you will soon be bored of? NO.

*Unless someone else who loves me a lot (read Achan) is booking the ticket, I always travel in sleeper class in Indian Railways. A three tier AC ticket in Sabari Express from Secunderabad to Kottayam costs 960 INR and in sleeper class it costs 400 INR. It is indeed a meager difference if you think about it. But when I think about it, I can save 500 INR and travel in the very same train and reach at the same time as the AC guys would. It’s not as if I live in a centrally air-conditioned home anyway.

#And my friend goes (not many know of this) “You are a freak.”

^But does he know that the view of nature and the feel of breeze compensates more than enough for the sweat particles you accumulate through the journey (as opposed to the sluggishness of oversleep that AC gives you)? NO.

*I hold the view that if friends go for a movie or dining together, everyone should share the expenses. This is even when it is a small group of two or three, even when it is a modest place where food/movie ticket does not cost much. In my roomie Richa’s words, I am a contri person (one who believes in contributing, apparently).

#And my friend goes “Yieeew! How can you be cheap enough to ask your friend for 40 bucks spent on French Fries?”

^But does she know of the glorious feeling that says ‘40 or 4000 does not matter, all my friends are equals.’ NO.

*I love the art of supermarket shopping and am a master at it. The mastery is over FMCG price watching. Let me explain. I take an article that is a potential buy, look at the packaging, check the price and net quantity, compare it with other brands on offer and decide which one is a better option. This also means that if Surf is available in a 450g pack (I hate the ‘non standard weight’ trick that companies have come up with to cheat consumers) and Ariel is available in, let’s say 650g packs, I actually stand there and do the math to find out the 50g price of each one. Sigh. Tedious, I know; but I do it nevertheless.

#Thank God, only I know this. :D

^But I myself know that this can be done only when I am shopping alone. Else, any person who potentially understands the calculations going on inside me could just murder me. YES.

I am sure you got a fair idea about the hard and fast middle class ideologies that I live by. Except one time, no comment from any friend has offended or hurt me (the exception obviously came from a girl friend in the quantity over quality instance). Guess why? I am proud of it, that’s why! I have grown up watching a simple living father and mother who pretty much led the same lifestyle when their salaries were in five digits and when it later turned to six digits. Achan still thinks it is a waste to spend more than a thousand rupees on a shirt. Amma still thinks there is no need to drive alone in a car and go to Kottayam town when she can ‘comfortably’ get into a ‘line’ bus and get back. Now, with such a set of parents, can I be any different?

This is not to say that I don’t have the greed to earn lots of money. My parents have never had that, but I do. I dream about a day when I have enough money to travel the globe and such other things. But when it comes to actually spending it, I think I will remain the middle class girl that I am and choose what is cheap. And you know what? I think I will still enjoy finer things of life. Which definition is not subjective anyway? My life, I define.

PS : The bit about Achan booking the ticket should not be misconstrued. That does not mean him paying for it. He pays anyways whether I book or he books. The point is when he books himself PHYSICALLY and I am not around, he makes sure I have some luxury. 

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Hunting in the dark or dreaming big?

In my dictionary, boredom appears quite close to depression. That is somewhat the frame of mind that I am in, right now.

To give some background information, I am currently at my second internship with at Hyderabad. I joined just ten days back and I am already seething in agony. The lovely people here have done nothing gross unto me. But an ounce of homesickness garnished with ample amount of boredom and loneliness do the trick. I spent my longest vacation at home in May – June 2009 after I left Kerala in 2006 for greener pastures (known by the name Google, back then). Seven weeks of absolute glory being the mademoiselle spoilt me. Its remnants are still somewhere inside contributing to the pain I mentioned above.

Then, there is an emptiness that has encapsulated my university. Many students are still there; it is just the MA lot that is missing. Most of my friends have also come back from home for their respective internships. However, it is just *dry.* I do not know how to describe it any better. A cloud of sorrow just pours down on me as soon as I get back from work. A frustratingly slow computer at work and the four-change-marathon-auto/bus journey to and fro don’t help a bit.

Amidst all this madness, I have been thinking a lot about what I shall be doing after my Masters. Since this is just a year away, may be ‘the thinking’ is a right thing to do. But I have discovered that I am hunting in the dark. You know why? Because I am absolutely clueless as to what I will do.

I always knew I wanted to do a Masters in Communication because it is a discipline that fascinated me with the creativity that it comes packed with. I cannot be happier that I am doing it now, and also, from the second best university in the country. However, what after that? Is it an option to become what 99.9% people ask me when they hear about my course? “So, you’re gonna be a.. journalist.. I guess?” Frankly, I don’t want to be. An ad-person? A PR specialist? A television producer? A communication academician? Options are so many; but I have an answer in none.

My basic issue is that I cannot get comfortable with the idea of doing one job for my entire life. I also hate the temporality of most jobs – the 9 – 6 tag irritates me. I am all for working when there is work to do. But when there isn’t, one should not force me to sit and stare at a computer until clock ticks 6pm. The mention of a computer reminds me that two and a quarter years at Google convinced me that I am incapable to work with computers five days a week, twelve months a year. My fingers and hands just do not co-operate. The callus on my right index finger that has rendered it useless and another one forming on the middle finger due to overuse with mouse, just say the same thing. Two months of internship have reaffirmed this to me and I know that my right hand hates me from the way it refuses to budge.

Basically, my freedom is extremely important for me. The freedom to decide one morning that I don’t feel like it to go anywhere. The freedom to go on an unplanned holiday to Hampi to relive some good memories. The freedom to watch YouTube video and browse blogs whenever. The freedom to know that I am financially secure in spite of any indulgences. Sounds really tough a dream to materialise, right?

I may be hunting in the dark. Or may be, I am dreaming big. Time will give me the answer. And I am waiting patiently.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Post Hatke!

Drum rolls! Here is the first guest post on my blog. It comes from a very dear friend who sweetly asked if I would be 'kind' enough to 'host' him. Being the nice person that I am, you would know what I said.

He is a bigger movie buff than I am, so it is befitting that he is doing a movie review here. Have a ball!

They are Gonna Hang me in the Mornin'..

Sreyas S S

3:10 to Yuma is the remake of a 1957 film of the same name. Both films are based on a short story by Elmore Leonard. Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a rancher who is struggling to support his family and is mired in debt. The creditor threatens to take over his barn in a week if he doesn’t pay up. Russell Crowe plays Ben Wade, leader of a notorious band of outlaws feared in the region for their ruthlessness. Ben Wade is cruel and evil. But they are not the only traits of his personality. He is intelligent, suave and practically oozes charm in every scene. He quotes from the bible at opportune moments during conversation and makes dainty pencil sketches of things that draw his attention. He also has a thing for women with green eyes. Crowe completely owns the role.

After robbing a stagecoach belonging to the railroad company, Ben Wade stops by at the town of Bisbee for a barmaid (Vinessa Shaw) he may have known from the past. It is there that he is caught by Butterfield (Dallas Roberts) of the railroad company and his men. Butterfield wants Wade to be handed over to the federal court in Yuma where he is certain to get a death sentence. For that they need to transport him to the town of Contention where they have to make him board the 3:10 train to Yuma. Evans volunteers to join the team that is going to escort the outlaw for $ 200. As the posse travels with their captive, they are constantly attacked by Ben’s gang led by the particularly vile Charlie Prince (Ben Foster). “I hate posses,” he says after shooting men overseeing tunnel work who also might be a posse.

Evans is the straight guy. He is just, fair and is bound to do what is right. What is at stake for him is more than the $ 200 that he is going to get for accomplishing the mission. His son William makes no bones of the fact that he doesn’t think much of his father. He is torn by the fact that he is not able to take care of his family. He is disturbed by the way his sons look at him and the way his wife (Gretchen Mol) doesn’t. In the scene in the hotel room which is arguably the best scene in the film, when the local marshals and finally even Butterfield walk out of the mission for fear of getting shot by Ben’s gang and others (as Prince makes an open offer of $ 200 to the town folk for every marshal or captor they shoot) waiting outside the hotel, Evans persists never once budging to the incredible odds at stake or to Wade’s offers of money for letting him go. When Butterfield tells him that he can have his $ 200 even if he doesn’t take Wade to the train, Evans realises that it’s no longer about the money or bringing a criminal to justice. Escorting Wade to the train becomes a chance to restore his pride and honour.

Ben Wade’s character is more complex. On one hand, he is a murderer with seemingly no remorse. He kills a guy because he taunted him in the night with a song. But for a man known to be so bad, he makes a few strange choices during the journey. Though they never openly admit it, there is a sense that the two men find something to admire in each other and even develop what maybe interpreted as respect. Russell Crowe gives a truly amazing performance bringing to life a character that has more layers to it than is visible on the surface.

At its heart, the film is a character study. And a great one at that. It deals with the ideas of honour, respect, pride and of course the ultimate question – what is good and what is bad or what is right and what is wrong. And none of this ever seems forced or contrived, it is so inherent in the plot. All this while captivating the viewer with a brilliant story that allows tension to build and build until it reaches a breathtaking crescendo. As the clock starts ticking towards 3:10, both Wade and Evans discover sides of their personality that they never thought existed or thought were long lost. I wouldn’t spoil the ending but it is so perfect and in keeping with the tone of the rest of the film that it made me feel that no other conclusion would have had the same effect.

Cinematography is awesome. Action sequences are done well with the cutting crisp and modern. The leads are supported by steady performances all round by the likes of Peter Fonda, who plays a bounty hunter with a score to settle against Wade, Alan Tudyk, who plays a doctor, Logan Lerman, who plays Evans’ elder son and Ben Foster who plays Charlie Prince, the second-in-command in Wade’s gang.

3:10 to Yuma is a brilliant film because it does one thing better than most films – tell a good story and tell it well. Not many films have left me so shaken and amazed, yet pleased and satisfied at the same time. ‘Nuff said.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Family Matters...

The last two days were fun because the whole family was together at one place - home! The randomness of Karakkonam, Pandalam, Changanacherry, Kottayam and Ernakulam took a leave for those two warm days.

Since Achan is leaving today for Dubai, he has left his work at Pandalam and is enjoying two days - exactly two days - of 'vacation' at home.

Akkachi, of course, has started going to college since the academic year has started. But she returns around 5pm. Ettan, since his transfer to Changanacherry from Cochin, reports back home much much earlier than before. Kids reach home the earliest, around 3pm. In fact, I am the last one to reach home everyday (around 6pm) after wrapping up my internship woes. Working during vacation, I tell you, is one of the few bad things of taking up a 'hands-on-work-experience-requiring course' like mine.

Oh yes, Amma! Without much persuasion, she decided to take an entire week off from her work. I had just suggested a Wednesday - Sunday, but she decided to make it a Sunday - Sunday. So she is full time at home like a homemaker. How nice! I think it is pretty amazing considering her obsession with work.

But when I think about it, it is not so nice. I mean, she is at home now, of course, by choice - just because Achan is leaving today and me on Saturday. She is no fish out of water or something. Yet I know that she is complete only when she is working. She enjoys her work that much.

There are times when, as a school girl, I used to miss my mother being a homemaker - or housewife - in less polished terms. Most of my friends had their 'housewife moms' to their disposal - to dress them up, to cook great food and wrap that up to make yummy tiffins. I don't know if I would have wanted her to dress me up, but i would definitely have liked more exotic items for lunch than the breakfast iddli/dosa. I frequently used to get irritated when she told in the evening, after returning from a full day of work, that she was going to check up on the Ladies Hostel that she was the warden of. Or even if she is at home, her burial inside a heap of examination papers waiting to be corrected would cause a frown on my face. Ditto with her temple visits on Saturday or Sunday mornings that were extremely long and make us have breakfast before she returned. Achan would tease her by saying Pujari had gone out handing the charges over to Amma, hence the delay.

But the major development about my growing up has been that I understand Amma much better today. I know that her dedication to work has helped thousands of students (without exaggeration, at the rate of hundred per year). Had she wasted her time packing tiffins for me, I would have had momentary satisfaction, yes. But what about the compromises she would have had to make with her work? May be, a delayed submission of corrected examination papers which would also mean a delayed publishing of results for about hundred students? May be a naughty girl who would con the watchman and escape the hostel gate? And may be, far less reverence and respect as a teacher and a human being than she has now earned. Right? I am so glad that she did not make that compromise then.

Amma and Achan probably hold the record of having attended the maximum weddings of their students. This continues even after they have retired. Mind you, it is just one indication of the love and affection she shares with her students. I cannot recall the number of students to whom she has been a mentor, local guardian and source of solace and love. All this and much more and yet attending to all the important things in the lives of Akkachi, me and Achan. That includes the month long leave she took for my SSLC exam.

It is funny how I have 'grown up' only in this aspect - understanding my mother. Nothing else has changed. My arrogance, anger, everything is in tact. I have petty fights even with Kunjunni (exactly 6.5 years old) because my emotional growth has stunned. In short, Akkachi has to deal with three intolerant kids at home, when I have a vacation.

Yesterday, when I was getting ready for work, Achan told me that we would be going for a family pic in the evening. That is one thing we do religiously from time to time. I would be normally very happy with the idea. But this time, somehow, I was not expecting it. I frowned because I was unprepared (read no waxing and threading done plus I am totally out of shape and do not want to be frozen into a frame at this point). Of course, Achan did not succumb and I silently agreed.

The photoshoot was illustrious. Different groups, different poses. And yes, the first colour coordinated one for the family! :) Yellow and brown was the theme. God knows how it will come out!

Then, a dinner together. A good film would have been a perfect finale, but there is none left to watch. :)

All these good times shall now remain as memories forever. And the next best thing to do is start expecting the next 'together' episode which might be during Achan's Shashtipoorthi celebrations in September.

And as they say, expectation is better than enjoyment. 'M loving it!