My first novel, My Friend Sancho, is now on the stands across India. It is a contemporary love story set in Mumbai, and was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. To learn more about the book, click here.
Varun Gandhi’s infamous hate speech and journalist Soumya Vishwanathan’s murder will be made into a film titled Ganatantra, being directed by JP Dutta’s assistant Surender Suri.
Rajan Verma, who essayed the role of Kasab in Total Ten, a film on the 26/11 terror attacks, is now playing Varun Gandhi. He says, “The film shows Gandhi in positive light.. as an able man, not given the place he deserves in the political party. The film will also depict a love story between the characters played by Varun and Soumya.”
The only thing not WTF about the above excerpt is that the actor who played Kasab is now playing Varun Gandhi. The rest of it leaves me speechless. I especially wonder what poor Soumya’s friends and family feel about this. Who thinks up these storylines?
That isn’t the only WTFness in that article. A gentleman named Kanti Shah is quoted as saying:
Yes, I am making a film on the Shiney Ahuja rape case. Shooting will begin soon. It is titled Rape and newcomers Imran and Sapna will play the characters of Shiney and the maid. Although the film will be based on true events and there will be no fictitious details added, there will be song and dance sequences.
Go figure. ‘Tasteless’ doesn’t begin to describe these guys. I need a plastic bag.
Former Bond girl Denise Richards has done some passionate scenes with Bollywood star Akshay Kumar in Kambakkht Ishq and says he is a good kisser.
Richards insists that no man in Bollywood can match his skills, reported contactmusic.com.
I’m guessing Richards must have done a rigorous survey of Bollywood kissers to come to such a conclusion. Like, she walks into a mall and catches a good-looking young man (GLYM) who looks like he might be in Bollywood (but isn’t really).
Richards: Hey, you there. Are you a Bollywood kisser?
GLYM: Er, well, ahem, yes, I could be.
Richards: Okay, then I need to kiss you. [She gives him the deepest kiss ever, her tongue almost coming out of the back of his head.] Mmmm. That was nice, but I’m afraid you’re not as good as Akshay Kumar.
GLYM: I see. Um, well, there is something I can do better than him, you know.
Richards: [Already getting ideas and feeling horny] And what may that be?
GLYM: Um, do you need any C++ programming?
Bonus link: Check out these slideshows about “Bollywood’s most kissable celebs”: From Rediff; and AOL. Any excuse to put together a slideshow with hot pictures.
The report says that Clooney has “hired a psychic to help him contact his favourite pet, a black pig named Max who died three years ago.”
I can just imagine how it all plays out. Clooney and his psychic are sitting at an ouija board in a dark room.
Psychic: George, I will tap on the board three times to say hello, and then you will hear three more taps on the board. After that, my body will be possessed by Max’s spirit, and you can talk to Max through me. Ok?
Clooney: Okay. But you know what, don’t mind and all, but I’m a skeptic about these things. So first I’ll ask you, I mean Max, a couple of questions to make sure it’s him.
Psychic: Sure. [He taps three times on the board. Three more taps are heard after that, and then the psychic throws his head back as his eyes start rolling in their sockets.]
Clooney: [Very excited] Max, Max, is that you?
Clooney: Max, Max, I need to ask you a question. Are you listening?
Clooney: Max, Max, when you saw me for the first time, what were your first words to me?
Psychic: Oink oink!
Clooney: Max! Max! It’s really you! [He hugs the psychic, who dirties his pants, thereby increasing Clooney’s ferocious nostalgia.]
Ok, fine, that’s a bit cruel. George, if you’re reading this and are offended, I apologize. But really, dude, a psychic to contact your dead pig—what were you thinking?
In the last couple of years, I’ve moved from “Learn to Say ‘No’” (journalism) to “Learn to Monetize” (writing novels)—which is problematic, because you can’t really learn to monetize in this field. Being a novelist is not like any other profession, and even publishers will tell you that they don’t really know what makes a book tick. You could write kickass books year after year and not have anyone notice; or you could be in the right time, at the right place, and be an overnight success. Unlike other professions, there’s no road map to success.
I made the choice that I did knowing the tradeoffs involved—I wouldn’t make anywhere near the kind of moolah I’d make if I stayed in journalism or went back to television; but I’d wake up every morning looking forward to getting down to work. I think that’s worth it—until my savings run out and I can’t meet the rent. Thankfully, MFS has sold well enough to ensure that won’t happen anytime soon. (15,000 copies so far, my publisher tells me, which makes it a huge bestseller by Indian standards—the benchmark for being a bestseller in India is 5000 copies.) My earnings from this don’t cover opportunity cost, of course, but they keep me afloat while I write the next one, and that gives me more joy than all the journalism I ever did.
While on success, Udhay also points me to a lovely essay by Po Bronson on the subject. Here’s an excerpt that sums up my feelings on the subject quite exactly:
There are far too many smart, educated, talented people operating at quarter speed, unsure of their place in the world, contributing far too little to the productive engine of modern civilization. There are far too many people who look like they have their act together but have yet to make an impact. You know who you are. It comes down to a simple gut check: You either love what you do or you don’t. Period.
In response to a friend’s comment on Facebook that Bengali paunches are holy, I offer you this little rhyme:
Ode to a Bengali Paunch by Amit Varma
A Bengali paunch may be roly-poly,
But I deny rumours that it’s holy.
It is the center of base desire,
The origin of a Bong’s carnal fire.
We get turned on by mastaard feesh,
By paabda, rohu and illeesh.
Porn for you is chingri for me,
It’s divine, but not holy, you see.
Would you like a Lobongolotika?
Would you like a lobongolotika?
Or some other form of aphro-desi-ka?
The holy paunch faces serious threats
From Gold’s Gym and such bourgeois outlets
Preserve our bhuri, we Bengalis must
A symbol of our glory, about to bite the dust
Let the paunch be the new erection
To show young bongs the right direction
I propose a paunchy statue as public art
To grace the crossing at Gariahat.
Malayalam writers are in the enviable position of writing for Adiga’s rickshaw puller and not just about him.
‘Enviable’ is exactly the right word there. Indian writers in English don’t have access to that rickshaw puller as a reader—quite apart from the fact that most of us wouldn’t have the ability to make it worth his while even if he read in English. By virtue of the language we write in, our readerships in our own country are constrained. At the same time, of course, it is easier for us to reach out to a global audience—though I wish some of our writers didn’t pander only to them.
As long as India in all its mad and magnificent diversity is available to me as subject matter, I can live with the fact that my possible readership is just a small fraction of my countrymen. If she can’t be my lover, I’ll make her my muse.
While on Koshy, her debut collection of short stories, If It Is Sweet, is out in the market. I’ve only read one story so far from the collection, “The Good Mother”, and I was blown away by it. Right at that masterful first paragraph, you know this woman can write. I can’t wait to get at the rest of the book.
Readers of India Uncut will know how much I love Alice Munro’s work (1, 2, 3), and I’m delighted that she’s won the Man Booker International Prize. (This is different from the Man Booker Prize, in that it’s not given for a single novel, and is akin to the Nobel Prize.) Literature isn’t a horse race, but if I was forced at gunpoint to name who I consider the greatest writer alive, I’d pick Munro. Indeed, if she wrote nothing else but this story, I’d pick Munro. Much joy.
Nobody messes with the national anthem. Rediff reports that the Supreme Court has slammed Ram Gopal Varma for his “distortion of the national anthem in his forthcoming film Rann.” The “vacation bench” has been quoted as ruling:
We have read it. It gives a totally negative sense. It seems every line of national anthem has been proved wrong. Nobody has got a right to tinker with the national anthem.
So remember, not only do you not have the right to express your opinion on a song, but songs, especially anthems, have rights. Don’t tinker with them.
In a Facebook conversation where I was moaning and agonizing over the brilliant Adam Lambert not winning American Idol, Salil Tripathi pointed me to this splendid commencement speech by Ellen DeGeneres:
I love the guy on the left of the screen. He’s having a good time.
I’m pleased to inform you that My Friend Sancho, my first novel, has started hitting the stores. We’re having a phased nationwide release, and the book should be in stores in Mumbai today (or latest tomorrow) by Saturday, and in the rest of the country before May 12. I’ll also be having launch events in five cities. All five events are open to the public, and India Uncut readers are invited to all of them. The details are below—as are links to the Facebook event pages to confirm your attendance:
Mumbai, May 9: 6 to 9pm at Crossword, Dynamix Mall, Juhu. (Basically, the Juhu PVR building.) Sonia Faleiro will be in conversation with me, and that will be followed by coffee and snacks. Here’s the Facebook page.
New Delhi, May 13: 6.30 to 9.30pm at Agni, The Park. Nilanjana S Roy will be in conversation with me—and there will be cocktails and nude belly dancers from Arabia. (Ok, no belly dancers. Sorry.) Here’s the Facebook page.
Kolkata, May 15: 6.30 to 9.30pm, Oxford Bookstore, Park Street. Anjum Katyal will be in conversation with me. Beverages and snacks will also be there, mixing discreetly with the crowd. Here’s the Facebook page.
Bangalore, May 16: 6 to 8pm, Crossword, Residency Road. Anjum Hasan will be conversation with me. Here’s the Facebook page.
Do drop in for any or all of these events and say hello.
Slightly disappointing news for overseas readers: Due to all kinds of complications, MFS won’t be available on Amazon etc for at least a couple of months. It’s a massive bummer for me, as many of you had written in asking when you could buy it in the US or UK. We’re hoping to fix that by July, and I’ll keep you updated.
Carol Ann Duffy has pulled off a three-in-one achievement by becoming Britain’s newest poet laureate: she is the first woman, the first Scot and the first openly gay person to hold that distinction. In the year that America elected a black president, this is most fitting. I’m rooting for the amazing Adam Lambert to win American Idol, which will make him the first gay winner of that show—and what a landmark year it’ll be.
Anyway, to celebrate all this, let me share with you a poem by Duffy that I rather like:
Mrs Darwin by Carol Ann Duffy
7 April 1852
Went to the Zoo
I said to him — Something about that chimpanzee over there
reminds me of you
Speaking of simian beasts, did you know that Shamita Shetty’s room was ransacked by baboons in South Africa recently? Even baboons, it would seem, have evolved to the point that they’re besotted by celebrity.
[I’d embedded the video here, but its embedding has now been disabled. Click here to watch it.]
After Boyle’s performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables, the sales of that soundtrack soared. And now Pugh. Good for the soundtrack, good for these singers. Les Misérables forever; les misérables no more.
Sometimes, when I am restless or upset, I walk up to the corridor of my house and look at the watchman. I come back quietly to my room and thank God for He has given me so much. I sit and count my blessings and the love that people have been giving me at every step.
It’s good to reflect on how lucky we are, but this dude has to go look at the watchman for that?
I wonder how the watchman feels about it. There he is, sitting quietly, bored senseless, looking out at the random fans waiting outside the gate of the house, waiting for his shift to end so he can head back home and sleep, and Salman Khan comes out and stares at him. Then Salman smiles, flexes his muscles, and heads back in with a lilt in his step. I wonder if, at times like that, and others, the watchman reflects on how very lucky he is.
We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind — mass-merchandizing, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods, the pre-empting of any original imaginative response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. For the writer in particular it is less and less necessary for him to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer’s task is to invent the reality.
Actually, we lived in a world of fictions even before all the things Ballard mentions came about—for how we see the world and ourselves, and the narratives we construct to make sense of everything, are also fictions of a kind. But yes, many more subplots are formed and crystallized by the media around us—not that it helps us make better sense of things.
It’s all such a mess that if God existed and was a writer, and sent Her work to a publisher, She’d get a rejection straight away. Or Her publisher would send Her a note: “Manuscript accepted. Much editing needed. Editor on way.”
And then a man in a black hat and overcoat would step up and say, “Hey, we meet again. Remember me? Lucifer. We dated once. I’m your editor for this book. Let’s cut your work down to size, shall we? To begin with, we need to get rid of those 100 million blogs you’ve put in there. Major excess, Girl, pure self indulgence.”
Early one morning, as the clock strikes five, Salman Khan steps out of his house. He’s wearing a tracksuit and sports shoes, and attached to his arm is a nifty iPod. He starts playing his Himesh Reshammiya playlist, and begins to jog.
Salman jogs. Himesh starts singing “Aashiq Banaya Aapne”. Tere bin sooni sooni hain baahein/ Teri bin pyaasi pyaasi nigaahein/ Tere bin bin asar meri aahein/ Tere bin.
Salman begins to run. Tere bin lamha lamha sataye/ Tere bin bekarari jalaaye/ Tere bin chain mujhko naa aaye/ Tere Bin.
Salman begins to sprint, sweat pouring down his bare chest inside his tracksuit. Aashiq banaya-aa-aa/ aashiq banaya-aa-aa/ aashiq banaya aapne!
And then, when he’s really engrossed in the song, Salman feels something beneath his feet. Damn, he thinks, Mumbai’s roads suck.
Just then, someone starts shouting at him. He switches off the iPod and turns around. It’s a pavement-dweller, a woman, standing there and screaming at him. Then Salman looks down at her feet and realises what he ran over: two other pavement dwellers. This woman’s family. No wonder she’s screaming.
“Hey, lady, I’m sorry,” he says, in that weird accent that passes for foreign in some of his films. “I didn’t mean to run over them. But you should chill, you know. I’m saving the planet. What’s a pavement dweller or two in that cause?”
“Saving the planet?” asks a blogger who happens to be there, leaning against a lamp post. “What do you mean, saving the planet?”
“I’m running to lose weight, man, I’m running to be more slim. So I’m saving the planet.”
Actor and Samajwadi Party leader Sanjay Dutt was on Saturday booked on an obscenity charge for allegedly saying that given a chance he would give jaadu ki jhappi (magical hug), made famous by his Munnabhai flicks, to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati.
“A case has been registered against Sanjay Dutt for making derogatory and undignified remarks against BSP supremo Mayawati during an election rally on the K.P. Hindu College ground in Pratapgarh on April 16,” a senior police officer told PTI.
Mr. Dutt allegedly said he “will give jaadu ki jhappi and pappi (magical hug and kiss) to the people of Pratapgarh and given a chance I will do the same with the Chief Minister and BSP supremo Mayawati.”
I find obscenity laws immensely silly, and it’s quite WTF that when politicians are going around spewing venom at the each other, this dude is getting booked for jokingly offering jhappi and pappi. Yes, Dutt has the brain of an infant, but unless he actually forces himself on Behenji and gives her a jhappi-cum-pappi, the law shouldn’t come into play. Are we such an immature nation that we can’t even talk of these things?
Anyway, imagine this: Mayawati hears of Sanjay’s comments, and expresses disgust. She finishes her work for the day and goes to bed. And then, lying alone in the darkness, turning with a heavy heart on a soft bed, thinking of all the sacrifices she has made for her people, she sighs softly. She remembers: Jhappi! Pappi!
Just then the doorbell rings. She waits, and the seconds seem like hours. Then the intercom buzzes.
Madam, her minion says on the other side of the line, A politician from the Samajwadi Party is here to see you. He’s a filmi kind of guy.
She pauses. Ask him to wait five minutes, I’ll just get ready.
She gets up, switches on the light, and in record time combs her hair, washes her face and brushes her teeth. She puts on her best silk salwar suit. And she applies a dab, just a dab, a subtle pappilicious dab of lipstick. Then she picks up the intercom and says, Send him in.
The launch dates for my first novel, My Friend Sancho, have been finalized, and I’m pleased to share them with you now. I had earlier mentioned that the book would be out by the middle of April, but we had to delay that just a bit, and it will now be in bookstores across India in the first week of May. The launch dates:
Mumbai: May 9, Crossword, Kemp’s Corner. Delhi: May 13, Agni, The Park Kolkata: May 14 or 15, Oxford Book Store Bangalore: May 16, Crossword Chennai: May 18, Landmark
I’ll confirm all these details closer to the dates. Barring Delhi, all the other events are open, and India Uncut readers are invited to come and throw tomatoes. I’ll be in conversation with Sonia Faleiro at the Mumbai event, and with Nilanjana S Roy in Delhi. We haven’t yet finalized the details of the other events, so watch this space.
To get a glimpse of the future of Indian television, consider these two news items:
1. Rakhi Sawant has announced a new reality show on NDTV Imagine in which she will begin “a nationwide search for her perfect husband along with the support of the audiences.” Fifteen dudes will be shortlisted, and at the end of the season, she will marry one of them. (If the marriage doesn’t last and the show is a success, she could do it again next year.)
2. A study has revealed that Varun Gandhi has “emerged as the new favourite of prime time TV news in the past two weeks.” After his controversial comments against Muslims, he “managed to achieve 22.57 hours of prime time coverage across six prominent channels,” about 9 hours more than the IPL, which was the second-most talked about topic.
You know where all this is going, don’t you? Yes, I hereby propose that Varun Gandhi be enticed to take part in the NDTV Imagine show, Rakhi Ka Swayamvar. He is eligible and from a noted family, she is voluptuous and hunting for a groom, and they both generate TRPs like cows generate milk. (Don’t ask why that image came to mind.) Also, it will keep the man out of politics, and the country needs that.
And will he win? Well, duh! I mean, imagine the Q&A round:
Rakhi: If someone attacks me, what will you do?
Varun: If someone raises his hand against you, I will cut his hand off.
Rakhi: If someone forcibly kisses me, what will you do?
Varun: If someone kisses you, I will cut his head off.
Now, in this context, she is totally going to find his comments romantic, not repulsive. And even if Varun doesn’t cut off Mika’s head, he could certainly take a leaf out of his father’s book and get forcible nasbandi done on Mika. Imagine the TRPs if that happens live.
Also imagine if, while walking to the mandap, Rakhi and Varun fall into a well and are trapped inside. Oh, the news, the viewers, the ratings, the media planners swirling in ecstasy! I have seen the future, and it is this, it is this, it is this…
(Rakhi link via email from Kind Friend. More Rakhi on IU: 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.)
One of the things I hate about the Indian literary scene is the writers who set their stories in India but write for a foreign audience. So instead of ‘dal’ they write ‘lentil soup’, and instead of ‘silk kurta’ they write ‘loose-fitting silk shirt’, and so on. I call them ‘tourist-guide writers’, more concerned with catering to Western demand for exotica than to the authenticity that would be true to their subject matter. Whatever. At least there is some rationale to their approach.
But why would an Indian publication, catering to Indian readers who know what Indian words mean, adopt the same approach? My readers know how very fashionable I am when it comes to clothes—except those who have met me personally—and I’ve been following the local coverage of the fashion weeks pretty closely. And time and again, I see Indian clothes being referred to in Western terms. For example, churidars are constantly being described as ‘leggings’. This is understandable if someone is writing for the US edition of Vogue, but all the local newspapers, as well as Rediff, which caters to an Indian and NRI readership, have taken to this.
I find this inexplicable for two reasons: One, ‘churidar’ is a lovely, sonorous word, and all Indians know what it means. Two, leggings tend to be form-fitting all the way from the waist to the ankle, while churidars are generally looser at the thighs. Besides being unnecessary, the substitution is also wrong.
There is similar confusion over salwars. Consider the outfit Shah Rukh Khan wore at the Manish Malhotra show a couple of days ago, which has been described variously as ‘pathialas’ [sic], ‘an Afghani salwar’ and ‘black harem pants’. Now, folks over in Patiala and Afghanistan can argue over the first two, but how is that thing he’s wearing ‘harem pants’? Why do we need to make our writing Western-friendly even when writing for Indian audiences?
Is it because the correspondents in question are so enthralled by coverage of Western fashion in foreign magazines that they find it necessary to stick to their glossary of terms? Or that Indian words, somehow, have become infra dig?
Also, does this attitude reflect something broader around us?
I love this video, and as blogging has been slow recently, let me share this with you:
The chica is hot, isn’t she? And the character David plays in this video, for some unfathomable reason, reminds me of Aurelio Zen. I’m sure absolutely no one else feels this way, but I’m a bit weird sometimes.
In an earlier post featuring Sanjay Dutt’s neanderthal (or simply pre-modern) comments about women, I’d quipped that I wondered if he’s put a dog collar on Manyata. An interview of his in today’s Hindustan Times indicates that he has—and she’s tied to the kitchen. Check this out:
HT: Did your wife convince you to get into politics?
Dutt: Manyataji takes the decisions in the kitchen.. aaj biryani banegi ya phir kabab or chicken. That’s where she rules. In other matters I decide what’s to be done.
I guess Dutt thinks this kind of talk is very macho—‘See how I keep my woman in line, I’m a real man, asli mard, ha ha ha.’ And if he is elected as an MP, he will no doubt have the same attitude towards his constituents as he does towards his wife—he will rule them, not serve them. During elections, he’ll fold his hands and will show much concern towards their needs—like a man wooing his beloved. Once he’s elected, if he is, he’ll only see what he can get out of them, and not give a damn about what they need, or what he had promised on bended knee. ‘Biriyani jaldi lao, bhook lagi hai.’ That kind of shit.
Such irony it is that his father was so different in both regards. How far this seed has fallen from the tree…
The London Telegraphhas a story on Camilla Power and Chris Knight, two anthropology lecturers who are leading demonstrations against the G20 summit. It tells us:
Educated at the Skinners’ Grammar School for Boys and University College London, he is a founder of the Radical Anthropology Group (RAG), which explores the origins of society from a Marxist standpoint. The pair have developed theories on the central role of women’s menstruation cycles in the development of civilisation.
Instantly I Googled, and found this study. It features the magnificent sentence, “The coalition of non-cycling females needs to grab any female who is menstruating, preventing philanderer males from taking her away.” I so want to read the Amar Chitra Katha issue on this—and imagine the fun if Ekta Kapoor comes across this study.
Also, imagine how differently human civilisation would allegedly have evolved if sanitary pads had been invented a few centuries ago.
He [Abhishek Bachchan] is the real ‘Padma Shri’ and I’m his ‘Padma Shrimati’ (giggles).
Immensely cloying cuteness, but they’re a young couple, so fine, we can forgive them that. But if we are to take this line of thinking further, Amitabh is Padma Babuji, Jaya is Padma Mom, and Amar Singh is Padma Uncle. I think all government awards are a waste of taxpayer resources—true achievers hardly need government validation—and this is a perfect opportunity for the government to stop this Padma nonsense. “No more government awards,” the minister in charge should announce. “Our sentiments have been hurt.”
Immense celebration happened on the day the Oscars were announced, for I’m a huge fan of AR Rahman and was overjoyed to see him win. And immense WTFness happens today, for Rahman says:
This award legitimises our music and the aspirations of hundreds of other musicians.
Legitimizes our music? All these years, all 17 of them since Roja, millions of us have loved Rahman’s music—so it wasn’t legitimate all this time? The crores of records sold in India, the four national awards, the 11 Filmfare awards, hell, the love of all his fans—and it takes an Oscar to “legitimize” his music? Et tu, Rahman?
I know many Indians still have this pathetic colonial hangover that leads them to crave validation from the West. I’d assumed that Rahman, just by virtue of being so good, had more self-respect than that. Well, such it goes…
Update: A number of readers have written in to say that maybe Rahman just happened to use the wrong word, that English isn’t his first language, that maybe he simply meant to say that Indian music has now got its overdue recognition from the West. I guess that’s a fair enough explanation of what may have happened.
Immense national pride comes at sharing with you the astonishing news that Abhishek Bachchan is planning to make “at least six public appearances in as many cities in 12 hours” in his effort to enter the Guinness Book of World Record. I kid you not:
On Friday, Abhishek Bachchan may make and break a unique Guinness World Record. It’s that of a film star making the maximum number of public appearances in 12 hours. Beginning Friday morning, when Delhi-6 releases, Abhishek will travel to as many events in as many cities as possible within 12 hours.
Speaking from Dubai yesterday, where he was attending the film’s premiere, an excited Abhishek said, “I heard of some German actors who set a world record by making five public appearances in 12 hours. I want to beat their record. I will do at least six to seven appearances in 12 hours in six cities. It could even go up to seven cities.”
Needless to say, I’m right behind him—India needs this record. In fact, I propose that Bachchan tries to do 60 cities in 12 hours instead of just 6. How can this be done? Simple. He should hang upside down from a private helicopter, which then then flies across the country, swooping down low over every big city on the way. The helicopter can even hover at some town squares so he can drink some water and sign an autograph or two, so that Guinness can’t complain that hanging upside down from a helicopter isn’t really a “public appearance.” 60 cities, I’m thinking, is a cinch.
And what if he gets bored during all this because he has no company? No problem. Masakali, dude!
Here’s an SMS I’ve received a few times in the last couple of days:
Help Operation Flood! This Friday Oscar nominated gay film Milk is releasing (with NO cuts) in Mumbai & Pune. Only if it does OK here will it get national release. Please pack theatres with friends & family to help Milk send a strong signal for tolerance and gay rights. Please forward this to friends.
I was planning to watch the film anyway this weekend, and I hope it does get a national release. But I wonder why the author of the message chose to call Milk a “gay film.” I would have thought there should be no such thing as a “gay film”, just as there’s nothing called a “straight film” or a “left-hander’s film” (if a film stars left-handers). I loved Brokeback Mountain because it was such a beautifully told love story, and the fact that its protagonists were gay is just detail. Equally, I enjoyed My Brother Nikhil, which, to its credit, unlike most other Indian films, showed its gay characters and their relationships as something utterly normal, requiring no explanation. I don’t think either of these films deserved to be slotted into a “gay film” pigeonhole, as if they are about gay people alone, and there is something there that the rest of us don’t get. If Milk is a well-made film, which by all accounts it is, I’m sure I’ll feel enough empathy with Harvey Milk, and enjoy the movie—I don’t need to be gay for that.
Anyway, when I saw the first of these SMSs, I thought of starting another chain SMS that began with the words, “Help Operation Barber.” But I’m too old for such frivolity now, so there it goes…
British reality TV star Jade Goody says she may allow her death to be filmed for a reality show.
“I’ve lived my whole adult life talking about my life. The only difference is that I’m talking about my death now. It’s OK,” she told the News Of The World in an interview published Sunday.
“I’ve lived in front of the cameras. And maybe I’ll die in front of them. And I know some people don’t like what I’m doing but at this point I really don’t care what other people think. Now, it’s about what I want,” said Goody, who has cancer and been given only months to live.
My fondness for reality shows is known to you—but I don’t quite think I’ll be watching this. It’s icky and disturbing.
That said, if art aims to reveal the human condition, then this is all reality shows had left to do. You’re only really taking on life after you come to terms with death. Mostly, we ignore it—and now it’ll be on reality TV. I predict millions will watch, fascinated, unable to switch the TV off, seeing themselves in the sad, pathetic figure of Jade Goody—as sad and pathetic as our species itself.
There is a Facebook meme going around in which people have to write 25 random things about themselves, and then tag various other people. Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with my list now. I can’t help but point you to Ol’ Bill Shakespeare’s list, though. (Yes, this meme’s been around!)
5 Sometimes I thinke plays are all Talke, Talke Talke, and wish for a cart-chase scene. I tried one in The Merry Wives, but it looked like Shitte, so I cut it. The men playing the horses were so Pissed at me.
14 On the topic of dating, my daughter Susanna loues to remind me: ~Jvliet was only thirteen! And I remind her that i) she was Italian, an impulsive race ii), she was actually played by a middle-aged Eunuch named Ned, and iii) she died. That always shvts her right vp.
23 Euery time we do the Taming of the Shrew, some pvnter wants his Money backe, because we don’t actually show a shrew getting tamed.
There’s potential here for a whole series. Let me offer you a sampler:
Nero: “I’m good with the lyre, but my fiddling needs practice.”
Aurangzeb: “I actually think these Brahmins walking around shirtless are quite… hot!”
Lalu Prasad Yadav: “I, um, like cows.”
Karan Johar: “I like girls.”
Pramod Muthalik: “I have a folder in my hard drive called ‘Paris Hilton’. It is 125 GB.”
After courting controversy days ahead of its release, Shah Rukh Khan’s latest film ‘Billu Barber’ will see the term ‘barber’ dropped from its hoardings and posters across the country following objections from an association of hairdressers, terming it “derogatory”.
The actor-producer, who spoke to representatives of the Salon and Beauty Parlors’ Association over the issue, on Sunday said his production house Red Chillies Entertainment will ensure that the term ‘barber’ is removed from all hoardings.
“The Salon and Beauty Parlors’ Association” sounds like it’s right out of satire, doesn’t it. If Raj Kapoor’s Shri 420 was released today, a Thieves and Dacoits Association of India might well have turned up to protest at the title—and the producers would then have to cut “420” from the title, leaving just “Shri.” All you Bollywood producers reading this, idiot-proof your titles right away.
Someone should make a totally pulpy Bollywood horror film out of this. Like Duel on steroids, with Ramsay Brothers production values, and maybe a song or two. It could begin with Delhi police inspector Khiladi Singh (Akshay Kumar) getting married to his childhood sweetheart Sallu (Katrina Kaif), with much song and dance. Then, just as he’s about to proceed on his honeymoon to China, a phone call comes. It’s the DSP (Paresh Rawal). Killer trucks are on the loose in Central Delhi, he says. Fifty people are already dead.
“How many trucks,” asks Akshay.
“At least six,” says the DSP.
“I’ll come right away. I’ll get those drivers, dead or alive”
“Wait—there’s something you need to know first.”
“The trucks have no drivers.”
So Akshay goes after the driverless killer trucks, asking Katrina to stay at home. She turns on the TV. She sees pictures of havoc and destruction, and a TV presenter (Esha Deol) is mowed down from behind by a killer truck while talking to the camera. So, presumably, is the cameraman. The screen shows static. And then a commercial comes on.
Katrina decides to go and join her man in his battle for civilization. And, as we find out in the end, it is just this decision that saves Delhi.
There are few things as poignant as a great artist, in the autumn of his career, getting embittered by the success of younger artists. I am a fan of Jagjit Singh, and his petty outburst today against AR Rahman and Gulzar is pathetic. Particularly this bit of WTFness:
After lambasting Rahman’s work, saying it’s just an imitation of Western music, Singh has now challenged the Oscar-nominated composer to sing ghazals to prove his talent.
Rahman hasn’t got his Oscar nominations for Best Musical Performance in Ghazal Singing, so I don’t see the relevance of Singh’s challenge. Of course Rahman would be unable to do justice to “Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho”—but he’d be no worse than Singh trying to sing “Tere Bina” from Guru or “Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera” from Swades. So fricking what? They’re both exceptional at what they do, and while Singh has a right to his opinion, this kind of public petulance lowers him in everybody’s eyes.
Singh, by the way, had asked the government a few years ago to “ban Pakistani singers from performing in India.” I wonder if that was motivated by misplaced nationalism, as I had then assumed, or something else.
Update: Bharat Dhurka emails me a link to a video clip of Singh talking about Rahman and Gulzar. In the clip, Singh asks Rahman to compose a ghazal, not to sing one—HT’s quotes might well be taken from something Singh said elsewhere, of course.
In any case, that demand is as absurd—like Paul McCartney challenging Eminem to write a ballad to prove himself as a songwriter. How silly would that be?
I really should have blogged about this earlier, but it’s never too late. A superb show of oil-on-canvas paintings by Sonatina Mendes gets over tomorrow today in Mumbai, and if you have the time and are in the vicinity, I recommend you check it out. The partner has curated this show, and while I don’t understand modern art too much, I love Sonatina’s work. I find her paintings moving and powerful; they don’t scream out with anxiety like the work of so many painters of her generation, but draw you in gently. Examples:
Poker is eminently human. Its strategy and parameters are based not merely on cards but on personalities, the tics and habits revealed over years of acquaintance. In my group, the Bad Loser growls and slams down his hand. The Bluffer blithely raises and, when called, fans out his cards in good-natured surrender, announcing, “I’ve got shit.” The Bottom Feeder taciturnly sticks around, hoping to sneak away with a piece of a cheap pot. Mr By-the-Book, glancing down into a winner, raises and telegraphs his hand and everybody folds, except for the Long Sufferer, who says, “Well, it’s only money,” and yields up another dollar with a sigh.
Always being in character is a bad ploy. Never making a mistake is a mistake. A failed bluff may pay off a few hands down the road, when you really have the goods, and everyone, remembering the failed bluff, stays against you. Poker, like statecraft, tends to steer by the last miscalculation, trying to avoid it this time. Which can also be a mistake. Our group has given up, by and large, on poker faces; we know each other too well—how we fold, why we stay. We’ve given up, too, on insisting that a player call his card correctly; we’re getting senile, and let the cards speak. It’s a comfortable group. Many the Wednesday evening, escaping from a domestic or professional crisis, I settled at the table as if my noisy buddies would protect me from life itself. In my one poker story, the hero has just been told he is fatally ill, and decides to go to poker anyway, and takes comfort by looking around and realizing that we are all dying—reaching out, gathering in, relinquishing. It was a story based on real life, though I didn’t die; I was simply scared that I would some day.
See, reactions to any book take place on so many different levels. Literary critics think my books are so safe, and that they don’t challenge anyone at all, but the fact is that these books often shock the middle-class people who are their primary readers. Whether you like it or not, you have to take into account the responses and feelings of even naïve readers. In Five Point Someone, when I had the two lovers engage in pre-marital sex, I got so many responses from people who said they liked the book but felt that Neha should not have “given up” her virginity. There have even been readers who know so little about novels that they don’t realise this is fiction: I get letters reproaching me for ruining Neha’s life by telling this story. ‘Tumne Neha ki zindagi barbaad kar di, ab uss se shaadi kaun karegaa?’ (‘You’ve spoilt Neha’s chances of getting married.’) I don’t know how to explain to them that this is a made-up story.
This illustrates the enormity of what Bhagat has achieved: he has got lakhs of people who do not read books to try their hand at reading a novel in English. There is a family friend of mine who probably hasn’t read a book in the last five years—he went out and bought all of Bhagat’s three novels when the latest one was released. I once used to know a chap who boasted to me that he had only read 10 books in his life, and they were all “for studies”—I can totally imagine him buying a Bhagat book at some point. In a market where an English-language novel that sells 10,000 copies is considered a bestseller, Bhagat has sold lakhs, by writing books that people who do not read books have bought and enjoyed.
How has he done this? I have no clue. It is possible that he has captured the zeitgeist of middle-class India in a way that we elite readers of literary books simply can’t fathom. It is also possible that this is less a writing success than the success of a meme, and he happened to be in the right place at the right time. Perhaps he shall write many more successful books, and sell in crores; or maybe the fashion will wear off, and other writers will take the spotlight. Whatever the case may be, he has shown one thing: there are lakhs of people out there willing to pick up an English novel and give it a chance. That is a big deal, and well done Chetan Bhagat for that.
Do read the rest of Jai’s piece, by the way. On the subject of criticism, I’m on Jai’s side, but Bhagat’s thoughts on the subject obviously reflect how many people feel. He comes across as honest and unpretentious, and he has my respect for that.
As for what I feel about his writing, well, I’m not a fan. But as my friend Chandrahas once pointed out in conversation, most of the people who pile on to Bhagat are making a category error—he is not trying to produce great literature that reveals the human condition, but to tell interesting stories that lots of people want to read. The first demands a subjective assessment; the second has an objective measure: the sales of the books. Bhagat is succeeding at what he wishes to do, and more power to him for that.
Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi has fuelled a furore yet again by saying that women in the country were so beautiful that they needed military escorts to avoid being raped.
On his defence, Berlusconi said he was complimenting Italian women “because there are only about 100,000 people in law enforcement, while there are millions of beautiful women.”
Berlusconi says he made his remarks in jest, which is just as well. After all, Italian men are not rats. In his intriguing history of this tenacious rodent, Jerry Langton writes:
Although all animals, especially mammals, can adapt to their surroundings, few if any do so as rapidly as rats. The reason behind this would appear to be the rat’s amazing fecundity. Rats just love having sex and they do it all the time. Male rats regularly mate with underage and already pregnant rats and have even been photographed mating with dead rats, their heads still caught in snap traps. Sometimes, groups of all-male rats will have sex with one another.
Don’t ask me why I’m reading that book. (Like a rat will eat anything, I’ll read anything.) But I read that news piece about Berlusconi, and straight away the image of rats humping all over the streets of Italy came to my mind. What army can fight rats?
PS: Can you imagine Manmohan Singh saying something like that?
Some of my friends are at the Jaipur Literature Festival, and one of them, Sonia Faleiro, interviewed Vikram Seth on the opening day of the festival. Much fun was had by all, eyewitnesses and participants tell me. There was even some wine on stage—and why not?
Well, according to this report in Dainik Bhaskar, local writers are up in arms because they feel that drinking wine on stage was a “kalank” on “sahitya, kala [and] sanskruti”, and are demanding that the state government take action. (If I was the state government, I would confiscate the bottle.) It’s hilarious stuff—if you can read Hindi, go through the piece, it reads like an India TV script.
And if you can’t read Hindi, even better—this Google translation of the page is much more hilarious. I especially loved what Google made of Nandlal Burner’s quote:
Public exemplary conduct of the writer should be. Tire or Kabir, Rskhan or basil, or Muktibod offerings, those who write them live too.
That surely has to be the last word on the subject.
I just watched Slumdog Millionaire and enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s an entertaining yarn, and really should be seen only from that prism. It rocks in the way a good pulp bestseller rocks, with a propulsive storyline that keeps you hooked, and requires a suspension of disbelief. To judge it by the standards of high art, and declare it a failure on grounds of plausibility or authenticity, is, in my book, a category error. It’s an airport paperback, not a Booker nominee.
Also, I’m a fan of AR Rahman, and to see him get such attention is wonderful. I hope he wins at least one Oscar, and foreign listeners seek out his Indian work because of that.
Now, here’s a question: If this film was made by a local director and not by a Western biggie, would our reaction to the film have been the same? Would we have so readily forgiven the clichés and other lapses of this film? Or would we have said, Saala, b*st*rd’s making a movie for the foreign audience. Sellout. Would we have been jealous of its achievement, or less forgiving of its flaws? Would we have liked the film more or less if Sunil Tandon of Juhu had directed this film instead of Danny Boyle of Lancashire?
That’s a question, not an accusation. I think I would have viewed the film differently if that were so—and I’m slightly perturbed by that.
We live in times when satire is redundant—for what can beat real news such as this?
An office bearer of a slum dwellers’ body has filed a defamation case against music director A R Rahman and actor Anil Kapoor [Images] alleging that the award winning film Slumdog Millionaire calls Indians dogs and slum dwellers slum dogs.
The meaning of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ in Hindi is the millionaire dog of slum-dwellers, Vishwakarma alleged, adding that such a name was a violation of human rights and honour.
Vishwakarma said he has already approached the national and state human rights commissions for necessary action against Rahman and Kapoor, who portrays the role of a game show host in the film.
On an email group I’m part of, Devangshu Datta says, “Now what we need is a millionaire to file alleging insult at being compared to a slum dog.” And lo, Hari Shenoy does the needful.
Also, Paras Berawala suggests: “Let’s also draft a petition by dog owners against Tapeshwar Vishwakarma for implying that ‘dog’ is an insulting word.”
The possibilities for such WTFness are endless: Someone can sue the makers of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi on behalf of God, alleging that they insult God by implying that one can see Her in any random person. Every Indian Idol contestant criticized by Javed Akhtar can sue him for the way his son sang in Rock On. The Chinese government and the Chandni Chowk mohalla committee can sue Akshay Kumar for you-know-what. Torture academies can sue Himessss Reshammiya for making them redundant. And so on and on. Immense potential simmers.
Dutt: Girls who become part of a new family after marriage must assume their new surname and all the responsibilities that come with it.
ToI: Is that a message to Priya?
Dutt: That’s a message not just to my sisters, but to all girls who hang on to their parents’ surname. It’s become fashionable these days. But I strongly feel that doing so disrespects the person they’ve married.
ToI: Those are strong words.
Dutt: This may sound harsh, but if Manyata had said that she wanted to retain her father’s surname, I would’ve felt offended.
I wonder if he’s put a dog collar on Manyata—just in case, you know. There are more priceless quotes in the interview, such as when he says, “no sister gets along with her brother’s wife.” And: “Politics is a golden opportunity to put an end to unwanted films.”
I used to think that the misdemeanors of Dutt’s youth were a result of his immaturity at the time. But it’s clear now that the guy is just a macho buffoon. And what’s a good place for a macho buffoon from a filmi family? Bollywood, that’s where.
I bet you never knew about this particular underbelly. See this picture. And this. The celebrities of Bombay are clearly turning this city into a city of vampires, Page 3 party by Page 3 party. They go mua, you go mua, what’s that on my neck, bye bye humanhood.
Just look at these dudes scoping out victims, mouths firmly closed. Pure evil.
There’s a delightfully trashy, pure timepass book in this. One of you writers reading this should really write it over a weekend or something.
The line of the day comes via email from Neelakantan, who, reacting to this, says:
Clearly, setting up a terror attack in India is a lot easier than setting up a business.
There are immense satirical possibilities in the government introducing licensing for terror attacks. I can imagine a short story named “A License For Terror” in which a dude named Hari applies to the Department of Terrorism for a license to set up a terror attack. “But you’re not Muslim,” the bureaucrat tells him. “We can’t give you a license.” So Hari, desperate to blow something up, goes and converts, and comes back as Mufeed. But Mufeed now finds that the previous reason given by the bureaucrat was an excuse, the chap just wanted chai-pani. The conversion was in vain. So Mufeed…
But I’m not going to tell you how it ends. What if I end up writing it?
Choosing what to wear is not such an easy matter, though.
The contest to design the cover for my first novel, “My Friend, Sancho”, is now over. To all those who entered, from me and Hachette India, Thank You!
We’ve been overwhelmed by the designs—not just the number of entries that came in, but the quality. As my editor at Hachette remarked, “Never has any book had so many great covers to choose from.” We’re trying to make a shortlist right now, and expect to announce a winner on Monday, January 19.
That said, announcing a winner will be heartbreaking, because so many of the covers are so good in different ways. Many factors go into choosing a cover: the subjective tastes of the people involved; inputs from production on how something that looks good on the screen will look as a book; the scope for effects such as, in my publisher’s words, “embossing, holographic stuff, texture, foiling, UV, etc”; inputs from sales on what will actually work in the marketplace. There are trade-offs involved: one cover may look beautiful and have just the right feel, but may have nothing to do with the book conceptually; another may be bang on in terms of suiting the book, and may not be the kind of cover that stands out from a distance in a book shop. It’s all very complicated.
For this reason, Hachette has decided that while it can choose just one cover and award just one prize, every single entrant will get a token of appreciation. If you entered a design, expect to hear from Hachette soon.
Meanwhile, I’m off to my ‘cover designs’ folder to get bewildered and overwhelmed. Thanks again!