Sunday, November 28, 2010

Baby, you're a rich man

Just as David Fincher's masterpiece The Social Network is about to end, Jesse Eisenberg who plays Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, is seen making a last ditch attempt at sending a friend request to a girl who once dumped him. He continues to refresh the page to see whether she has accepted. Meanwhile, the subtitles state the post script of the film - what eventually happened to the characters involved in the lawsuit. And as the camera zooms closer to Zuckerberg's face, it finally rests close to him as the final subtitle states that he is the youngest billionaire in the world.

What makes this entire sequence top notch, is the addition of The Beatles' Baby you're a rich man in the background score. The lyrics are apt and the music, just perfect for a scene of this nature.

In this post, I reproduce the lyrics. Read them and mull over Zuckerberg's state of mind at the end of the film.

Baby, you're a rich man - The Beatles

How does it feel to be
One of the beautiful people?
Now that you know who you are
What do you want to be?

And have you travelled very far?
Far as the eye can see.
How does it feel to be
One of the beautiful people?

How often have you been there?
Often enough to know.
What did you see, when you were there?
Nothing that doesn't show.

Baby you're a rich man,
Baby you're a rich man,
Baby you're a rich man too.

You keep all your money in a big brown bag inside a zoo.
What a thing to do.

Baby you're a rich man,
Baby you're a rich man,
Baby you're a rich man too.

How does it feel to be
One of the beautiful people?
Tuned to a natural E
Happy to be that way.
Now that you've found another key
What are you going to play?

Baby you're a rich man,
Baby you're a rich man,
Baby you're a rich man too.

You keep all your money in a big brown bag inside a zoo.
What a thing to do.

Baby you're a rich man...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

How to get your dad to buy you laptop

I pore over the screen of my netbook. My dad, the only other person in the room, realizes what a terrible mistake he's made by buying me one.

"The fonts appear so small," he says. "You'll strain your eyes, if you sit for long hours in front of the netbook."

I shrug and carry on with my work. I enjoy the comfort and coziness that a netbook offers. It is light in weight, has longer battery life (compared to a laptop) and once you stash it's hard disk with movies, songs and e-books, you feel like taking a vacation.

But my father is not impressed. He continues looking into the netbook screen, from over my shoulder. "I should have seen this coming. You'd get addicted to this device and its small fonts are going to ruin your eyesight."

Annoyed, I snap at him: "So what do we do? Are you going to buy me a laptop?"

"Yes," he says.

\m/ :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

#barkhagate: Protests in 140 characters leave no space for grey areas

Barkha Dutt, one of the icons of Indian news television, has spent a generous part of the last few days, patiently replying to tweets, many of which express their loss of faith in her, and are demanding answers for her involvement in a controversial expose.

Her active presence on Twitter, has ensured that all ire is directed straight at her and she cannot dodge any of it. Search for '#barkhagate' on Twitter, and you sense that Twitter users, bloggers are baying for her blood, questioning her ethics and demanding her resignation.

Her reply to each tweet is calm and calculated. Like this one: "Ethics should be measured by coverage of issues. Diplomatic friendliness to get information from a source is very different. To get news one speaks to all kinds of people, dirty or clean, if they are a source of real time updates. That is not a crime."

But Twitter is a rather merciless place. Rohan Babu, head of social media at digital agency Media2Win says, "Once Twitter users take a stand against someone, the negative publicity can spread virally to all other media in a short span of time. Let's see how long protests in #barkhagate last. We're living in times where one controversy is only waiting to be suppressed by another."

Shubho Sengupta, head of digital media at Rediffusion Y&R agrees and says that #barkhagate is not going to affect her in the long run. "By replying to tweets, I think Barkha is handling the issue very intelligently and she should continue the discussions. But most tweets are very impulsive rants or attacks against her, they aren’t asking her the right questions."

How will they? Most users of Twitter are probably unaware of the lengths journalists have to go to, the shoulders they rub, the relationships they build, to bring their viewers fresh news everyday. After all, exclusive interviews don’t just walk into your studio. For many, the printed word in a newspaper is sacrosanct, coming from journalists who have access to 'the truth'.

Veteran media critic, V Gangadhar says, "This controversy has shown that the media is not so sacrosanct after all." He adds, "For long, the Letters to the Editor was the only section where you could complain about an erroneous report, or give feedback. Social media has changed all that, since criticism happens on public fora."

The controversy over paid news, the relentless play of the ‘breaking news’ on Hindi news channels and the coverage of the 26/11 terror attacks are only some of the instances where the media has come under sharp criticism.

Which is why, since the last few years, the growing adoption of new media - blogs, citizen journalism websites and Twitter - has thrown open a parallel source of news, not dependant entirely on journalists. It's a rather crucial phase in the history of journalism, when the media's reputation of having the final word is being challenged.

"I think #barkhgate has given people legitimate grounds to question the neutrality of the mainstream media," says Santosh Desai, CEO, Future Brands. "The blackout of reporting on the scandal by major newspapers and news channels, was the biggest reason that angered social media users."

But there is also criticism of the kind of debate that new media is generating. Gangadhar describes it as 'very Right-wing, unbalanced and extreme'. "In general, audiences and readers expect journalists to be all righteous creatures, black and white; they haven't been able to accept them in shades of grey. "

Desai says that people must read every issue with some sort of sensitivity and maturity of the context in which it took place. "#barkhagate hasn’t grasped that issue with a certain sensitivity required, or crafted it like a debate. Rather it is more of a personalized attack."

Still, social media is the true manifestation of a ‘free press’, says Shishir Joshi, former journalist and founder, Journalism Mentor Foundation for Excellence in Journalism. "Media organizations with dotted connections across businesses often find it tough to carry stories such as the allegedly grey role senior journalists have played in the spectrum drama. Social media, thus offers them an option of carrying these (by quoting the 'tsunami of buzz in the web world') and yet, not hurting relationships (which has been the case currently)."

In a way, it is hoped that the current backlash against mainstream media can only help journalists pull up their socks and be more accountable and accessible, because a certain Big Brother – the audience - is watching. "A free press is the strength of a vibrant democracy. We must admire its strength and be wary of its weakness (absence of control). Let us be skeptical, not cynical," says Joshi.

(An edited version of the above piece appeared in Daily News Analysis (DNA), Mumbai on 24 November.)

Image courtesy: Satish Acharya, Mid-Day

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ever tasted Izzat Ka Falooda?

There are certain terms in Hindi language that continue to amaze me. Mere expressions have been converted into delicacies, recipes that we would never try out.

For example, whoever invented the phrase 'Izzat ka falooda'.

Izzat in English, translates to synonyms such as respect, stature and image - all of which are shredded to bits thanks to the Hindi language which makes a delicacy out of it. That too, not a spicy or obnoxious or salty one, but a dessert! We're talking about falooda here, something which is made with a mixture of all things good - nuts, raisins, ice cream, vermicelli, cream, kheer and lots more, depending on how rich it can get. Basically, the term falooda conjures up images of all things so delicious, something we so lovingly indulge in from roadside vendors which nams like Gupta Ice Cream or Mewad Ice Cream. Yet the term izzat ka falooda suddenly has all the trappings of all things regressive.

Think about it. Film titles! Mango Ka Falooda could have been a nice Sanjeev Kapur recipe, Ishq Ka Falooda could have been a typical Farah Khan entertainer, but Izzat Ka Falooda is so, so David Dhawan.

Incidentally, it was Dhawan's film which coined the term Ande ka funda, which at least to me, has produced no 'Funda'mentals. An egg is white and yellow inside - the only fundas I know about it are that it is prone to mood swings, depending on how its cooked. Boiled (calm, soft), omlette (pissed, diseased), sunny side up (smiley and happy).

The story doesn't end here. What's a good Indian meal without some curd? Enter another Hindi language coinage - 'Dimaag Ka Dahi'. It's like giving a fatwa to dahi, which has always cooled tempers inside the confines of our belly.

When you say, "Mere dimaag ka dahi mat kar!" it means you're saying, 'Don't fuck my brain, ok?'

Fuck and dahi (curd) can be strange bedfellows. Come to think of it, a curd churned out of flesh from your brain could be disgusting, but I'm sure that guy who anchors Man versus Wild on Discovery Channel, will find still find some intelligent things to say about it, such as, "This is very rich in proteins! Brain curd is actually great for enhancing your memory. Like upping your 200 GB hard disk to a 400GB one!"

Dear Hindi, oh Hindi...what other culinary items have you prepared for us?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We were such fashion disasters

''Kya umar thi, kya samaa tha, kya zamaana tha''

Nostalgia can be a great leveler. For example, when you meet up with friends from school, it is nostalgia that brings you together.

No matter wherever you are now in life, no matter how much you earn, what car you drive and how many credit cards you own, there was a time when you were on par with your peers - at least, you were told to believe so - and the solitary unifier between everybody in class, was the school uniform.

The fucking school uniform.

Its made fortunes for detergent companies, given our mothers sleepless nights over its cleanliness and has proved to be an excellent resting bed for dust, dodgeball stains and scars from our Physical Education class.

Without a doubt, we looked much hotter on Traditional Day, and we took our chances in admiring our classmates. The women suddenly looked prettier, the saree firmly accentuating every sign of hormonal change.

I remember, it was Teachers' Day, I was in Class X and my classmate, who was my first ever crush, walked into the classroom wearing a black saree, necklace, earrings, et al. It's one of the most gorgeous sights I've ever seen and one that I'll probably remember on my death-bed, when life turns into a swift slideshow.

In summary, we really relished every opportunity to wear 'civil dress' when we met the same classmates outside school, even at tuition class.

When I meet the same classmates today and compare what we look like with what we used to be, I realize that we've indeed come a long way. I see this not just in them, but even while browsing random Facebook albums. Try this exercise sometime - compare their latest profile picture with the their oldest picture in their Facebook photos. The human body, you'll see has a strange way of reinventing itself. And this is true, despite a deliberate make-over done at a salon. Sure, external influences play a huge role - straightened hair, Brylcreem are things we wouldn't see in school - although its different with kids these days - but there is no denying that the human body has an in-built salon triggering change.

It is this process of constant change amazes me. Every second, some muscle is making way for the other, some skin is giving way to new, some hair strand is getting bored with the jungle it is in.

The process is similar to the formation of the earth and its continents. Europe and Africa were probably interlocked at some point of time, but now they are separate. After we touch puberty, our hormones are in a constant state of Waka Waka, making us hotter, fatter and if we treat ourselves well, more sexier.

But while the body is working so hard at it, passing through various stages of development, we've covered it up in clothing that has also passed through various levels of 'tolerance'.

I call it tolerance, because when I look back at the photos from my college days, I see what fashion disasters we all were.

''Shit. How could I wear that trouser with that shirt. They just don't go together!''

This is more or less, my reaction everytime I go through my old photo albums.

Part of the reason could be that during those times, we wore what our parents bought us. And now, thanks to our employment, regular pay-cheques and a debit card to boot, we do our own shopping.

If we had a chance to go back in time and change something, I think most of us - the working professionals at least - would completely change our wardrobe.

(I'm talking only about clothing here. Given a chance, we'd like to change many things, wouldn't we?)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Tea and biscuits, anyone?

Whatever happened to the ritual of friends coming over home to an evening of tea, biscuits, farsan and good conversation? Our daddies and mommies do it, but when we become them, we probably won't.

It is a strange time to be me.

After about six-seven months of smooth sailing, I'm suddenly jobless.

Without a doubt, joblessness is a difficult state to be in, especially if you're living in Bombay. Your friends will ask you to explain your situation and say, 'Let's meet over coffee and discuss'.

'Catching up' over a cup of coffee costs you at least Rs 50, an amount which isn't too difficult for you to shell out at this moment, but it could be a coffee that would go down as a regressive one, in a few weeks from now if you don't land a job which pays at least as much as the last one did, if not more.

Friends, dependents in your family, the whole fucking society - they all make joblessness even more uncomfortable. Facebook albums do the most damage. Status updates from friends going on a holiday. Europe. South Africa. Australia. Singapore shopping binge. Photographs uploaded by people you know, probably showing them holding their bottle of beer as a trophy, chilling at the coolest lounge bar in town. Your guy friends posing with semi-naked women (who it turns out, are colleagues, much to your mom's horror, making her comment, ''Draupadi's vastraharan would be so pointless in today's times. You won't be able to spoof it either.'').

Your friends wonder why you won't join them over the weekend spending binge. Rs 250 - daylight robbery at the multiplex to watch a movie. Request denied. Long island Iced Tea at Hard Rock? Rs 300. Request denied. ''Let's go to Blue Frog!'' Entry Rs 500. Assured: A place to stand. Want to sit? Book a table. Enjoy your meal. Estimated expenses per head? Rs 500 at least. Request denied.

You feel that the world has suddenly become rich.

And it is true. There are some things money can't buy. Provided you have the willpower and better sense to tell yourself - this is not worth the price. And in Mumbai, depending on your social circle, you might get the opportunity to tell that often. After a point of time, you're an outcast. Which is exactly the state I'm in.

Does that mean I would have indulged in the above mentioned activities with a regular job? Yes and No. (More on that, later.)

It's at times like these I wonder whatever happened to the simple pleasures of life.

When was the last time you invited someone home for tea? Tea, biscuits, chaat, conversation?

My cousins in Kolkata would be surprised to read this, but I've come to realize that the social circle I've come to mingle with over the last three years in Mumbai, has almost NEVER done a tea/coffee evening get-together at their house. Whatever happened to VISITING friends over the weekend for an evening of simple, good conversation?

I've tried. And unless there's alcohol or a party to go along with it, the request has been more often than not, declined.

''What's the occasion?'' I've been asked. ''Who all are coming?'' ''Why suddenly?''

I'm amused. As a kid, I was witness to frequent visits by family friends who would hop over home - unannounced - and on most occasions, we'd be delighted to host them for the evening. Provided they went back home for dinner ;)

You may argue that on weekdays, one can't pull this off. But its on the weekends I realize, that there's a dramatic difference in the way people behave. On weekend, home is just not where the heart is. And even if it is, you don't want to share it with anyone.

Does this change after marriage? Does this change after you buy a house and you feel okay not only to have impulsive guests, but also planned dinners?

Friday, March 05, 2010

Bombay's greatest asset

It's been almost a week that I'm back to commuting 4 hours daily from Ambarnath to my office in Lower Parel.

The purpose is two pronged - one, I'd like to be the night watchman in my own house, since my parents are in Kolkata for my cousin's wedding. And two, it's not everyday that you get a sense of ownership of a 1BHK+Terrace flat, all to yourself.

The implications have been two pronged too. My meals have become irregular; the other night I drank half a litre of Maaza, before gobbling up three eggs (bad imitations of sunny sides up, they were like a solar eclipse, rather).

But I get more time to read. And peacefully too. Like I'm reading Vikram Chandra's beautifully written debut, Love and Longing in Bombay. The other day, I finished Sidin Vadukut's hilarious first novel Dork.

It's made me realise that for me, independence is perhaps the way forward. I'll work out the meals bit, but nothing beats the feeling of coming home to a house that's just your own and not being shared by another person.

That doesn't mean I'm a loner - I enjoy company and I have a good circle of friends who I hang out with - but coming home is a different thing. There are just certain things I want to do - read some chapters of a book, watch Arnab Goswami on Times Now, observe Telebrands post mid-night and - hold your breath - tune into some of the daily soap operas to find out what the nation is watching. (Don't belch. When you're in a business about consumers, you've gotta be familiar with what's tickling them.)

Still, this same independence can be a happy and non-stressful one when it is close to office. Four hours stolen from my every day in the form of a nightmarish train ride home - that is one compromise I'm unwilling to make for long.

But living alone in Bombay is fucking expensive. Unless, if you're an RJ or a model, or you have a 'white collar' job.

Shit. I must shift to Bangalore. Life's unbelievably cheaper, or so I hear. Some friends there share a bungalow for a monthly rent of Rs 11,000. We pay the same rent for 225 sq ft flat in Lower Parel.

But then, well. Bombay is Bombay.

This has been my chronic dilemma over the last two-three years. Want to shift out of Bombay, but can't think of a life outside Bombay and living with people who are not Mumbai-kars.

So maybe it's true when they say, "It's all about the people. It's all about the people."

Bombay is a city that is all about its people. It's own charms are too diffused and inflated beyond it deserves. I think those charms died in the 1950s, when the Parsis were the face of Bombay. That was some life, some charisma, some style to this city.

Since the 1960s, Bombay conjures up images of partisan politics and saffron armies, the mills and the landowners, considering the real estate El Dorado that it's become. The soul of the city is therefore, only it's people and its they who make the city tick.

There's a reason why Bombay is the commercial capital of India. So much business comes here, purely because this city has the resources to pull it off. Whether these are ill-fed resources or not, is a different question. And by now, you already know that they are ill-fed and do not enjoy a standard of living comparable to that, say, of a Chandigarh or New Delhi.

So then, here's to the people of this city. Bombay's greatest asset.

Monday, February 15, 2010

In defence of the Shiv Sena

You have to give it to the Shiv Sena. All along, when they created all this hoo-haa over My Name is Khan’s release, we thought they were fuming over SRK’s remarks about Pakistani players and IPL.

Not true.

I'm sure there is something called as ‘Won’t-let-you-watch-it-since-its-a-bad-film’ clause in our constitution.

The Shiv Sainiks already knew it’s a terrible film - thanks to the large network of pirated DVD hawkers they help flourish. It is perhaps Karan Johar’s worst film and the Shiv Sena votebank would be cheated of precious ticket money, bringing more gloom over what is not a very rosy picture of household expenses these days.

So the accusation on SRK and Karan Johar was of cheating (Tu gaddaar aahe!) and not what we thought (Tu gaddaar aahe!).

I’m also told Thackeray wanted to wrestle his way into the lead role of the film. He had set up his goons to convince Karan Johar to change an important dialogue of the film.

From ‘My Name is Khan and I’m not a terrorist’, he wanted it changed to ‘My Name is Thackeray and I am a terrorist. (Based on a true story)'. This was when the film was in its scripting stages. But when he saw the first cut of the film, he suddenly turned messiah for all cinegoers. He couldn’t tell Karan Johar straight on his face that his film sucked. Hence, all this gaali-galoch.

I’ve just come back from a late night show of MNIK at the Regal cinema. I generally do not give advice to people on what to watch, what to skip.

But this time, I will. Do not watch this film.

Yes, it has its high points- SRK is very good, as is his chemistry with Kajol (Chemistry text books in school should have their photos on the cover, rather than atoms and molecules), Ravi K Chandran’s photography is a treat, as is Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music (Sajda sent me on cloud nine).

But when the Exit signs in the auditorium start glowing more brightly than the events unfolding on screen, you know that the director has completely lost it. It’s not Karan Johar alone to blame – his intent is sincere and heartwarming, as is his direction in most parts - it’s Shibani Bhatija’s screenplay which is a complete letdown.

(Spoiler alert!)

The plot sounds sweet when you hear it for the first time – a young Muslim man with Asperger’s syndrome travels across the United States to meet the President and tell him that he is not a terrorist – but when you walk out of the theatre, you feel cheated. Meet the President! For what? You told him you’re not terrorist. He already knows it, which is why you’ve been allowed at such close proximity to him. Has it changed the fate of millions of Muslims in the States? I’m not sure.

Why does Kajol do a sudden about-turn accusing him that his surname was responsible for her son's death? And the scene where her son dies, is a clear example of high-school bullies going overboard, rather than a racist attack.

The film's biggest weakness is that it does not generate sympathy for its characters. When Mandira (Kajol) dumps Rizwan (SRK), you do not feel sorry for him. You do not feel ecstatic when help pours in for the Georgia flood victims.

And when Rizwan is stabbed out of the blue and there's a melodramatic hospital sequence, you find yourself groaning. Ditto in the scene where Kajol breaks down with her dead son in her arms. Because you know it, the director has overdone it.

There is buzz about the box-office collections of MNIK overtaking that of 3 Idiots.
I think its complete hogwash. Spin doctors are behind this new trend of tom-tomming Rs 100 crores, 200 crores within weeks of a film’s release.

3 Idiots, like most blockbusters, made its money by repeat viewing. MNIK certainly does not fall in that category. It would be a telling statement of the viewing tastes of the audiences of today, if they supported mediocrity like this.

Highpoint of the film: When Mandira asks Rizwan to marry her. My cheeks started aching, I was blushing so much.

Lowpoint of the film: SRK being stabbed. I wanted to head to the Exit door.

ROFL moment of the film: The scene where Khan walks into the kitchen and finds Mandira there chopping vegetables. Says, "Mandira, can we have sex, please?"

Verdict: **

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The perfectly outrageous motion picture

I've had the most fantastic past two hours watching Sidney Lumet's 1976 film Network. I don't intend to write a review of the film here - I'm speechless right now, to be honest - and I've had similar feelings after watching three of my all-time favourite films, Sunset Boulevard, Shawshank Redemption and The Clockwork Orange.

Network inevitably adds to that list.

A common thread between all three films is that after I've seen the film, I've felt richer - in emotion, intellect and wisdom - thanks to powerful screenplay writing. The performances are equally astounding and Network is far more closer to life than I imagined, thanks my own closeness in some manner to the working of the television and media industry.

And would you believe it...when I begun watching the film, I thought it was the original of Ram Gopal Varma's Rann. Thank God, it isn't. It can't be.

I'm pasting below some lines from the film. Each line is self explanatory and can be etched in gold. I do not need to explain the context in which they were told. They're statements by themselves, a quality which timeless screenplays have always had, apart from being able to project and predict a future which we now live in. I think this is why some lines are called classics.


"I want you to get mad. I don't want you to protest, I don't want you to riot, I don't want you to write to your Congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression, the inflation, the Russians, or the crime in the streets. All I know is that first... You've got to get mad." - Howard Beale, the lead protagonist in Network (A video of this dialogue will do complete justice to this piece. So here's the link.)

"Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those *are* the nations of the world today." - Arthur Jansen, promoter of the network, to Howard Beale

"I was married for four years, and pretended to be happy; and I had six years of analysis, and pretended to be sane. My husband ran off with his boyfriend, and I had an affair with my analyst, who told me I was the worst lay he'd ever had. I can't tell you how many men have told me what a lousy lay I am. I apparently have a masculine temperament. I arouse quickly, consummate prematurely, and can't wait to get my clothes back on and get out of that bedroom. I seem to be inept at everything except my work. I'm goddamn good at my work and so I confine myself to that. All I want out of life is a 30 share and a 20 rating." - Diana Christensen, programming head of UBS Television

"It's too late, Diana. There's nothing left in you that I can live with. You're one of Howard's humanoids. If I stay with you, I'll be destroyed. Like Howard Beale was destroyed. Like Laureen Hobbs was destroyed. Like everything you and the institution of television touch is destroyed. You're television incarnate, Diana: Indifferent to suffering; insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality. War, murder, death are all the same to you as bottles of beer. And the daily business of life is a corrupt comedy. You even shatter the sensations of time and space into split seconds and instant replays. You're madness, Diana. Virulent madness. And everything you touch dies with you. But not me. Not as long as I can feel pleasure, and pain... and love." - Max Schumacher, Diana's lover and retrenched newsroom editor of UBS Television
There are many more memorable lines and I suggest you watch the film to get a sense of what I'm talking about.

For starters, here's a link to its official trailer.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Notes from the Strand Book Festival

I’m absolutely delighted with the collection of books I picked up at the Strand Book Festival. I went there on the Festival's second day itself. Can’t say I’d been saving for this – I now buy books on a regular basis, Superfreakonomics, The Book Thief, A Case of Exploding Mangoes are some recent buys – but generally, browsing in a room full of books, with bibliophiles from in and around Bombay, can be quite therapeutic. For example, that’s one reason many of us visit Landmark bookstore on weekends, buy nothing and come out feeling better.

This year, Strand’s done things a bit differently. I’m not sure if this is how it always is, but they have not put up ‘everything’. So for example, you can’t come here looking for Jeffrey Archer, Coetzee, Murakami or JK Rowling. I spotted just one title by Jhumpa Lahiri and Orhan Pamuk's latest, that's all. One can argue that you don’t come to a book sale to pick up an Archer novel, but then, well.

The arrangement of books at the Festival is a blessing. I’m tired of craning my neck at bookstores to read the titles. Why don’t you just arrange the books horizontally? Ten brownie points to Strand for this simple change.

So what interested me the most? I think it's is an excellent opportunity to pick up some great coffee table books at throw-away prices. I also found some interesting titles about Tarantino, Satyajit Ray, but I didn’t give in to temptation, as frankly I found myself overspending by quite a bit. Last year, I spent about Rs 1,500 on about 6-7 books. This year, I’ve bought 10 titles and spent about Rs 2,750.

What made me overspend was the high number of non-fiction titles (see list below). Was also keen to buy more titles here – Inside Steve’s Brain, Inside Rupert’s Brain and Rana Dasgupta's Solo – but convinced myself to postpone the purchase for another time.

My keenness to buy non-fiction was the simple fact that I think learnings from these books can lend much so more to daily conversation. Which is why books like Tipping Point, Freakonomics, The World is Flat, and Superfreakonomics are such absolute must haves on your bookshelf. I cannot imagine discussing The Kite Runner or A Suitable Boy or Milan Kundera for over 15 minutes. I can rave about them, listen to you talking about it and nod, but that's about it.

Coming back to Strand, I was disappointed to see very few youngsters at the Festival. Most of the visitors were in the age group of 35+ and that included a lot of people in the 45+ range. My fears of youngsters – 18 to 30 year olds – not reading enough books are confirmed. Is Facebook and Twitter making us stay away from the fresh smell of paperbacks? I’d like to agree.

Billing done, I came home (Ambarnath, that is) carrying these books in a Khopoli fast local, keen to spend the weekend with my parents. 14th February, Valentine’s Day coincides with their marriage anniversary and my availability over the Valentine’s Day weekend has absolutely convinced them that I do not have a girlfriend. Not that they doubt it, or are opposed to it; they’re just sure of it now – hardly any conversations on the phone, no calls after 10pm, one can easily tell who is dating and who is not.

So paperback diet it will be for the next few months. And I hope that in the near future, when you and I are having a conversation, it will be much richer than it is now.

Here’s a list of books I bought and since it’s sale, I would be charged guilty if I did not mention the prices that I bought it for.

English August - Upamanyu Chatterjee - 225
Love and Longing in Bombay – Vikram Chandra - 150
Smoke and Mirrors, an experience of China – Pallavi Aiyar - 195
Why We Buy – The Science of Shopping – Paco Underhill - 490
The Undercover Economist – Tim Harford - 350
The Ayatollah Begs to Differ – The paradox of Modern Iran – Hooman Majd - 225
Tricky Business – Dave Barry - 200
Family Matters – Rohinton Mistry – (Hardbound) – 275
The Art of Conversation - Catherine Blyth - (Hardbound) - 300
A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaleid Hosseini - 295 (to be gifted to my cousin, I hope you're not reading this, Debo! :))

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Of Chetan Bhagat and unlimited parking in our brain

There’s a scene in Wake Up Sid where the editor of a magazine (Rahul Khanna) smiles mockingly, almost in disbelief when his colleague (Konkona) tells him that she does not enjoy jazz music.

Mujhe purane Hindi filmon ke gaane pasand hain,” she says. “Unko gaa toh sakte hain.” (I like Hindi film songs...the classics. Atleast one can hum them.)

For me, this scene was one of the high points of the film. The argument was spot on and I wanted to congratulate the film’s scriptwriter for penning this scene. Here's why.

For long, I’ve been amazed at how journalists, especially senior editors, editors, literary critics or Sunday edition reporters have consistently mocked popular choices in entertainment.

If you like jazz, you’re cool. If you like Singh is King, you’re uncool. If you’re a fan of Coetzee, you’ve arrived. If you’re reading Chetan Bhagat, you don’t have any taste in literature. And your sense of humor is down in the dumps if you’ve laughed your ass off in 3 Idiots.

Generalisations like these have often baffled me. Are you trying to suggest that your tastes are superior to mine? I've seen 3 Idiots in two cities - Mumbai and Kolkata - and I've never seen housefull auditoriums laugh their ass off like they did while watching this film. And then I've met some - all in the journalist/media fraternity, who can't seem to make out what's so great about a film. I think I'll send them a DVD of The Blairwitch Project.

In November, I remember, Indian Twitterati, friends in the media drummed up hot air (mostly negative) about how Chetan Bhagat’s books do not deserve to be read, what a terrible author he is, etc. I was hysterical when I heard about this, since I've seen from close quarters how students, first time novel readers have pored over Chetan Bhagat novels in the most crowded trains. I travelled to Kolkata recently by train and in my compartment, out of the roughly 7-8 people reading book during the journey, 5 of them were absorbed in Chetan Bhagat novels. That’s quite an achievement. And then they say that the bugger can’t write.

I was at a day-long conference recently where Bhagat was part of a panel discussion and despite his Delhi-ised English accent, he made absolute sense in every word he said. But to many in the audience, most of whom seemed to be the 'discerning snob' types, he remained the butt of all jokes. Even during the networking lunch, very few walked up to him to greet him. The best-selling Indian author was not hounded, like he is when is amongst his fans.

I’ve come to recognise these people as the ‘new age snobs’. They’ll consume Kurosawa, Wong Kar Wai, Truffaut films and appear like they’ve seen the world and they’ll conveniently skip the biggest blockbusters from the country – Ghajini, 3 Idiots, Om Shanti Om, Singh is King – dismissing them as utter crap / entertainment for the masses. They won’t travel by train – they might as well describe it as cattle class. My best friend is a film critic and I admire him not because he bowled me over with his understanding of world cinema, but also because of his maturity at accepting popular cinema targeted at the masses.

What worries me is that most media houses are run by the 'snobs'. And they always have been. When you’re running a newspaper for an audience that comprises the masses, how can you have such different tastes than them? This is why typically film critics’reviews and audience reactions vary to a great degree.

Does that mean that we must encourage people like Taran Adarsh (who are trade experts and not film-critics per se) to review films for us? I’m not so sure. It’s a very debatable topic, particularly because of his trade background. But I think over time we need art and literature critics who are good at recommending the most deserving choices to their audiences. Rather than those, who aiming to send their CVs to The New Yorker.

I think the ideal consumption of literature is one that includes the good, bad and the ugly. So read all you can gather on a platter. Read the masterpieces, the classics, read the chick lits, read the thrillers. Also read the Mills & Boon and Nicholas Sparks. A Titan commercial quotes Aamir Khan saying, “Be born everyday. Aaj rockstar, kal pilot. Kabhi kisi anjaan station pe utar ke dekho. Kabhi kisi gumnaam sheher ka ticket katao...Be more.”

Ratatouille, the delightful animation movie about the adventures of a rat who wants to cook, also elucidates the same point wherein the food critic, Ego, admits as to how literary critics often forget to appreciate the simple things. Like a plate of ratatouille.

Absolutely true.

If you’re going to confine yourself to only certain kind of authors, certain kinds of films, then you’re a one-way street, with no parking.

Our mind is best conditioned as a two-way street, with unlimited parking.