Monday, December 17, 2007

Flux Is Difficult



Flux is difficult. I used to be bad to the bone, wearing a leather jacket, riding a powerful bike (by Indian standards), smoking cigarettes and playing drums for a rock band while my long curly hair swayed in the wind and the women with equal ease.

Then came the change. I got a job in Delhi.

The leather jacket now lies stuffed somewhere, the bike is sitting pretty (ugh!) in Bengaluru, the bad ass black t-shirts have been replaced by more sublime subtle colours and fashions, the cigarettes are being besieged by thoughts of quitting, the drumming now revolves around learning the waltz and the swing with not an electric guitar in sight, the long curly hair has been cut (although it's growing now) and it's been a pretty dry spell for a while now. Sigh! I miss the freedom that a corporate job and lifestyle curbs so efficiently.

The Ghost of Christmas Past never comes without the Ghost of Christmas Future. I am looking into the future and what I am able to make out in that dark murkiness is not entirely nice.

Friends are starting to get hitched. And these are my friends, not children of my parents' friends.

Am I going to be working this corporate rat race for the rest of my life? I don't want to. I want to be my own boss, set my own deadlines and work for myself.

I want to live in different cities, six months to a year per city - New York City, London, Paris, Boston, Sydney.

I want to be a writer, an author of books. I have the gift of the written word (at least so I've been led to believe). It would be criminal to let it fritter away while I slave at a desk day in and day out selling nobody's dream in particular.

I want to do theatre again, grace the stage, but only in serious big professional productions. I believe I have earned myself that right of not having to work with people who are doing theatre to look cool or to impress somebody from the opposite sex, but to work with people who are seriously into theatre and might even be doing it for a living.

I want to be able to savour a glorious morning extending into a truly breath-taking day instead of witnessing the morning on my commute to work and then hearing about the day in the news or from the free-lancer friend or from the colleague who ditched work that day.

But there is one hitch in all this dreaming and it's got Mahatma Gandhi's face on it. The money to support myself and my family and provide for a decent life and livelihood is a necessity and I have no means of making it right now apart from working that corporate rat race. I have to finish writing at least one book so that there exists a remote chance of a publishing house reading it and publishing it. That will then provide a glimmer of hope of a livelihood being eked out of writing. Bleak, huh?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Cricket At Work, Statistically Speaking

It's Wednesday night and you've crossed the halfway mark of the week. It's been a bad 3 days so far and you're just trying to push yourself to the weekend that now seems a day closer than it did yesterday. Equate your work week to a 5 day cricket Test match. Whenever I've been having a less than average week, I draw my strength from a particular 5 day cricket Test match that happened nearly 7 years ago. Let me explain this magical piece of history.

The month is March, the year 2001, the city Kolkata. The harsh Indian summer is turning the corner, but its presence can already be felt. The Australian cricket team is in the middle of their tour of India and are in the midst of overcoming the "final frontier", as then captain Steve Waugh referred to the Indian tour. They had been doing pretty well, going into the second Test after having whipped India in the first one.

Day 1 went decently enough for both teams with Australia finishing on 291/8. India were looking to quickly mop up the tail, but Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie thought otherwise. They put on a dogged partnership of 133 runs and Australia scored 445 in their first outing. India came out, were immediately in trouble and the rot never stopped for the rest of the day as they finished Day 2 on 128/8. VVS Laxman quickly gathered some runs in a last wicket stand of 42 as India were bowled out for 171 in their first innings, behind Australia by 264 runs and forced to follow on as they stared down the barrel at an imminent Test and series defeat. India came out for their second essay and, although they did better, lost key wickets along the way. They finished Day 3 at 254/4, still 10 runs behind Australia and VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid, the last 2 specialist batsmen for India, at the crease.

VVS Laxman looked to be in good touch. He had scored 59 runs in the first innings before he became the last Indian wicket to fall. At the end of Day 3, he was unbeaten on 109. Rahul Dravid however, looked to be out of sorts, like all the other Indian batsmen had so far. He had managed just 25 runs in the first innings and had finished Day 3 unbeaten on 7, having just come in. So far, the entire Test, and series till that point, had been Australia all the way. They had simply walked all over India and the footprints were deep. Then Day 4 happened.

Exactly 90 overs were bowled by the Australians that day. Exactly 335 runs were scored by the Indians that day. Exactly 0 wickets fell that day. That was the day that changed VVS Laxman's initials from Vangipurappu Venkata Sai to Very Very Special, a nickname he carries with aplomb and lives up to to this day. Laxman added 166 runs to his overnight score of 109, finishing Day 4 unbeaten on 275. Rahul Dravid epitomised his nickname of "The Wall", adding 148 runs to his overnight score of 7, entering the pavillion unbeaten at the end of Day 4 on 155.

Australia, who had been eyeing and smelling a victory at the start of Day 4, achieved possibly by the end of day's play, had spent the entire day in the field without a single success and were now actually facing a possible defeat as they trailed the Indians by 325 runs with Laxman and Dravid still at the crease. The crowds, who hadn't really bothered coming in at the start of play on Day 4 but later turned up in surging waves as the news of Laxman and Dravid spread, were jostling and fighting to acquire a ticket to see an improbable Indian victory on Day 5, snatched from the jaws of defeat by 2 Indians against an army of 11 Australians, Spartan-like.

Laxman fell early on Day 5 as India sought to press their advantage. He had amassed a mammoth 281, the highest score ever by an Indian in Test cricket. He had single-handedly wiped out the first innings deficit of 264. Rahul Dravid fell soon after, trying to up the tempo. He had scored 180 and was an equal hero. Between the two of them, they racked up some voluminous statistics and records. They shared a partnership of 376 runs, scored a total of 461 runs, faced a total of 805 balls or 134.1 overs and spent a total of 1077 minutes or 17 hours 57 minutes at the crease. Phew!

India declared in about an hour on Day 5 at 657/7, setting the Australians a massive target of 384 with about 75 overs left in the day's play. The required run rate was well above 5 runs an over, a near impossible task in Test cricket, especially when your back's against the wall. That meant that India were in the clear. They were almost definite of a draw, but they were looking at a win. 10 wickets in 75 overs meant a wicket every 7.5 overs, a most definitely achievable task, especially with the Indians having their tails up and baying for Australian blood on a crumbling fifth day pitch.

Australia started solidly enough and the openers thwarted the Indians for nearly 2 hours before the first wicket fell. A half hour later, two more had fallen. Captain Steve Waugh and opener Matthew Hayden, the two top scorers for Australia in their first innings, set about their task of not getting out. Over an hour later, the two of them were still at the crease. With just 30 overs left in the day and 6 wickets to scalp, at an average of a wicket every 5 overs, and with impossibly difficult batsmen in the form of future captain Ricky Ponting, wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist and bowler-who-just-won't-get-out Jason Gillespie, an Indian victory was starting to look more than just a tad hard to achieve. But we couldn't have a draw after all that has happened, after all that our 2 brave Spartans had done the previous day. And that was when the Turbanator decided it was time he stepped up to the plate, again.

Harbhajan Singh was another man for whom the series provided a nickname, earned for his exploits with the ball and his turban. He had picked up 7 wickets in Australia's first innings and decided that a sequel was in order. He got rid of Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting in the same over. That opened the floodgates. Sachin Tendulkar, who had had a rotten Test till then, sent back Adam Gilchrist in the next over and then accounted for Matthew Hayden 2 overs later. In less than 20 deliveries, Australia had gone from a potential drawing position at 166/3 to a headlong free fall into defeat at 173/7. 2 overs later, Tendulkar removed Shane Warne and Australia were tottering at 174/8 with another 25 overs left in the day. The Australian quickies tried to put up a brave front as they fought tooth and nail to stay at the crease for another ball, hoping against hope that they could last out the day. But it was just delaying the inevitable. The last Australian wicket fell about a half hour from the close of play. The Turbanator had sent home 6 Australian batsmen.

India had won a miraculous Test match, becoming only the third team in Test cricket's 137 year history, and the first in nearly 20 years, to win a Test match after following on. VVS Laxman was deservedly named Man-of-the-Match for having turned the Test match on its head with one unbelievable magical knock. That one day, Day 4 of Test 2, turned the series around. India became the dominant team and won the third Test as well to wrap up an improbable series win.

What does all this have to do with work? Well, day 3 of the week, Wednesday, is over and day 4 of the week, Thursday, is about to begin. And I'm an Indian.

Note: Much thanks to Cricinfo for all the numbers.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Aaja Nachle

I saw the movie Aaja Nachle, widely touted as Madhuri Dixit's comeback vehicle, today. I have pretty much stayed away from Bollywood this year, a result of a combination of disliked actors and poor reviews. But this one had Madhuri Dixit, and I don't really dislike her. She seems sensible and mature. I mean, if she was coming back from the US for this movie, it had to have something. Thankfully, we bought our tickets before I read the first review. Rediff (Raja Sen) pretty much trashed it, giving 2 stars for her smile. Hindustan Times (Khalid Mohammed) also tread the same path. This post will attempt to accomplish 2 things. One, it will attempt to give a decent review. Two, it will attempt to criticize the critics.

Aaja Nachle is very pretty. It has lovely images that appease the eye and the music, that otherwise sounds quite ordinary, is backed up by some very powerful visuals. The film has a nice languid pace to it without really getting boring. It quickly moves over the portions that can get really tedious if delved into whilst ensuring that it pretty much remains a film of equals with everybody getting a fairly meaty role, replete with dialogues and screen presence. The film touches upon the various relationships that exist between the characters, all of which are beautifully etched out and nicely portrayed, while keeping small town India, cliches and all, firmly in mind.

Madhuri Dixit is like wine, good then, much better and more mature now. Ranvir Shorey is very believable as the man jilted at the altar, but still harbouring feelings and misaligned anger for Madhuri. Vinay Pathak is beautifully government official-like. Akshaye Khanna and Irrfan Khan deserve more than just mentions as special appearance. They have a fairly big bearing on the plot. Kunal Kapoor looks bloody good and Konkona Sen Sharma is absolutely adorable. The film also shows the kind of oppression that the women in rural-ish India suffer from, reeling under familial pressures as well as husband induced ones. But what I really like and was touched by is the amount of heart that these characters portray, whether it is friendship overcoming the might of power and money or the boring stifling husband who wants to save his marriage by becoming more interesting. These characters are not afraid to swallow their pride and let their heart do the talking.

Just as the film starts to get a little meandering, the final show comes on, the timing just right. And what a show that is. Sure Ajanta, that otherwise might wear a forlorn and decrepit look in day, magically transforms to a portrayer of dreams at night rivalling even the famed Acropolis in its hey-day. But then that is what theatre is about. Turn a blind eye to the reality of it all. Where and how and when are these changes taking place? How does a policeman taken on at the last possible moment know all his lines and movements perfectly? How is the stage changing landscapes in between acts? Suspend belief just a little bit and then you will see the film for what it really is, a grand musical that any theatre hall would be proud to host. The final show is a grand spectacle that is powerfully and beautifully portrayed with some brilliant acting. Glad to see that our actors can do so much more than just run around trees and our directors can think of song sequences that don't involve trees. The final show doesn't demean or insult the audience's intelligence by treating them as rural India, as is wont with so many films that originate from the metros. The treatment of the film can be paralleled with Swades or Lagaan. Aaja Nachle is a must watch.

The reviews however have generally panned the film, picking on little things and sniggering about inane stuff like National Geographiya. Both Raja Sen and Khalid Mohammed have yet again earned my ire for behaving like immature imps. I'm starting to think that both of these gentlemen don't really know how to review a film and have become very cynical, going into theatres with a prejudice already formed and an opinion already biased. If they continue to tread this path of treating both the viewing public and the film fraternity with utter disdain and scant respect, then neither the public nor the film fraternity are going to accord them any respect. Farah Khan made her views quite clear on Koffee With Karan when she called film critics 'retards'. One only has to go through the comments in Raja Sen's reviews on rediff to realise that the public are thinking along similar lines.

A reviewer has the might of the pen and the command over the language to weave an intricate interpretation of the film, something that will tell the reader something about the film, something about what the reviewer saw and felt and heard. I believe I have done that in my review. (Have I? Let me know.) We do not want spoilers telling us the story and what happens in the film. Instead, we have reviewers like the above mentioned who choose to waste precious newsprint space as well as the readers' time by trying to come up funny lines. You are not a stand up comic act. Stop saying "Yikes!" so much. Treat each film on its own merit. Do not bring in the excess baggage of production house, histories of those associated with the film, etc. Just review the film, review the three hours you spent in that hall. Funny how dance themed movies from Hollywood received better reviews. All our film-makers are not bad. All our films do not suck. There are some genuinely good ones out there. Your friends are probably better reviewers than the so-called film critics who believe in only criticising.