Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dhobi Ghat

The last time I reviewed an Aamir Khan film, it was the first post on this blog.  The film was Rang De Basanti, an over-the-top, uber-masala bollywood blockbuster that I enjoyed tremendously.  If there is an antithesis to Rang De Basanti, it must be Dhobi Ghat.

All aspects of the film from the writing to the cinematography, the acting and the editing eschew Bollywood norms.  The drama in the film is not propelled along by 'powerful' lines, intense camerawork or urgent editing.  The stories are allowed to unfold at their own pace and have the unevenness and ragged edges of real life. The one cardinal error in the film is casting Aamir Khan as one of the four protagonists of the film.  Not only is he unable to cast away his superstar persona and get in the skin of the mercurial loner-painter that he plays, his acting is without finesse and overly loud in this otherwise quiet film.  It is by no means a terrible performance, but it just doesn't fit.

The film tells the story of four individuals in the city of Mumbai, all immigrants in one way or the other.  The characters have only the amount of depth required for the story to be convincing, but this is not a critical failing, as the acting performances of both Kriti Malhotra as Yasmin, the muslim woman from UP, and Monica Dogra, as Shai, a parsi investment banker from New York are utterly believable.   Prateik as Zoheb/Munna, an aspiring model/actor is somewhat inconsistent but mostly excellent.  

The plot employs coincidences and chance-encounters in abundance and if you aren't already seduced by the film, you may feel hard done by, but the film had already sucked me in so I was willing to be indulgent.  The equations between the characters are delicate and finely crafted.  The easy camaraderie between Shai and Munna, punctuated by the unselfconscious selfishness of the investment banker and the alternating eagerness and propriety of the dhobi boy, is some beautiful storytelling.

The film's subtitle 'Mumbai Diaries' was obviously a canny attempt to market the film as a 'Mumbai' film as they seem to have a currency all of their own.  Dhobhi Ghat is not a Mumbai film.  Mumbai never rises above anything more than mere backdrop. It creates the context for these immigrant lives to collide, but so could any other city that welcomes immigrants.  Aamir's toast to the immigrants of Mumbai in the opening sequences is perhaps an (unnecessary) attempt to drive this aspect of the film home.

The other recurring theme of the film is the visual medium, whether it is Shai's photography, Aamir's painting or Yasmin's videography.  It's a theme that is just out there and open to interpretation, but it is an interesting interplay and adds substance to the story.  The rain also plays a bit-part in the film.  As drink-mixer, home-intruder, intimacy-creator and general mischief-maker it plays more of a role in the film than Mumbai does.

This is a film that you enjoy during the 95 minutes that you watch it in the hall and in the time that you spend thinking about it and pondering the director's intentions and ideas with regard to the characters and their relationships.  It allows the viewer to fill in blanks and extend storylines and imagine some of the off-screen action.  Gustavo Santaolalla's soundtrack and Tushar Kanti Ray's cinematography complement the mood of the film perfectly and make Dhobi Ghat, Aamir Khan excepted, a consistent and enjoyable whole.

If I had to give a score I'd give this film 7.8/10. 

Saturday, October 09, 2010

So much has changed!

So the last post was more than three years ago. There's so much that has changed since then that I am not going trouble myself with listing it all out. I do feel older and wiser. I suppose it would be a shame if you got older and you didn't at least imagine that you had gotten wiser in the process.

I don't have anything in particular to say, but I'll report some of the less significant of the changes that have occurred in the three years since the last post.

I've resumed reading. Books. From cover to cover. What a lovely feeling it is to finish a book, and particularly if it's been a good book. For many years I've been barely reading books. On the rare occasion that I'd start a book, I would almost certainly not finish it. So pathological was my inability to finish a book that I'd read a 500 page book and stop reading it with about ten pages to go. Now I'm finishing more books. And some have been utterly lovely, like Haruki Murakami's "South of the Border, West of the Sun", Simon Singh's "Fermat's Last Theorem", and Greg Milner's "Perfecting Sound Forever".

Speaking of sound, I've acquired a vice in this three year period. It's called audiophilia. I've gone through what can be described as three completely different setups in this period to arrive at the Stereo that I have now and love to pieces. The CD player is a Marantz CD63SE (12 years old, heavily modded with capacitors, op-amps, clock and power supply upgraded), the amplifier a Topping TP20 (that uses the legendary Tripath TA2020 chip) and the speakers are something called the Odyssey Epiphony, designed and made by this chap called Alain Courteau in Canada. It's quite magical what this stereo does with music. If you think this stuff is bunkum and your ipod sounds better then I'd happily invite you home for a listen. And if you persist with your foolish ideas I will look upon you with scorn or pity, or perhaps both.

And speaking of music, I've picked up the guitar again. I have a new Yamaha acoustic guitar, and my old trusty Tansen eletric. A bunch of friends and I have been jamming of late and are calling ourselves a band. It's perhaps a bit premature to call ourselves a band, but we're having a blast making music that we love. We hope to someday write and produce an original musical (a rock opera, if you must). I also composed a few bars of a song, after many many years. It's a happy feeling. I also realise that I've become a slightly better guitarist in the course of this long hiatus. I don't quite know how. But I've decided to teach myself the fundamentals of the guitar, so that I can be a proper guitar player and not just someone with a few random bits of skill.

This was just to get rid of the blogging rust. Maybe I'll post again soon. Or maybe it'll be another three years. (Nothing like some mystery to keep the audience intrigued)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

ALL NEW Riff Cafe

Featuring a new look, new (and utterly brilliant) contributors including the one and only Sunil Chandy of Thermal and a Quarter (and Lounge Piranha), new features (erm...label menu :-P), new and very exciting content covering areas as diverse as music during Apartheid, Carnatic music, pop-rock and an equally diverse variety of writing styles and perspectives, and lots of interactive content including videos, you must MUST visit Riff Cafe, because even though I say so myself, it is a brilliant, but criminally under-read, collaborative music blog.

A snapshot of what's available on Riff cafe now:

Mayibuye - In the struggle against apartheid, the call "Mayibuye!" took on rallying proportions. Mayibuye means, literally, "let it return" or "may it come back"...

You are in the Kyoo, Please Vait - Mallu rock Video, Band: Avial; Track - Nada Nada Nada

The Reluctant Genius - ...Wafting through the speakers of the little Phillips cassette player was the most quaint and extraordinary Sankarabharanam I had ever experienced. Each phrase was distinctly Sankarabharanam, but was still nothing like I had ever heard anywhere...

And LOTS MORE. So fuck off from here and go to riff cafe.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Goodbye Gurgaon

Hello? No one's reading this you tell me. So what? I'm writing anyways. I'll be that tree that falls in the forest that no one hears, or the virtuoso violinist in the DC subway station, only not quite virtuoso and not really a violinist (not even a tree, come to think of it, but let's not dwell on technicalities...oh!). Pffft.

I've left Gurgaon. Gurgaon, my bete noire, my bugbear, my heat and dust and biting cold, my too littleness, my revolt-me, my nightmare, my disillusionment, my displeasure, my disgust and my despair (With deep, heartfelt apologies to Salman Rushdie). Gurgaon crept up on me and took me by surprise; nasty, nasty surprise. My first taste of Gurgaon was for a month in 2003, after which I declared it "the asshole of the world"and vowed never to come back. Circumstances conspired and I landed in Gurgaon again in August 2005, this time without the mercy of a known exit-date.

Now, with immense relief, a little more than a year-and-a-half on, I've left the 'asshole of the world' behind. Temporarily I continue within the boorish confines of the NCR (National Cattle Region), whiling away time in Delhi, while the logistics of my move to Chennai (and civilisation) are worked out.

Gurgaon of course has left an indelible impression on my mind and has served, if nothing else, as as a low-water mark for urban experiences. Those who know me would have heard me complain repeatedly about the lack of transport, the state of the roads, the rubbish power-supply, the insane drivers, the godawful weather, the lack of culture, the lack of courtesy and civic sense among the people, and such other irritants. Each of these individually, or in a cluster of 2 or 3 might have been bearable and probably exists in almost all cities in the country, but the sheer comprehensiveness with which Gurgaon sucks is astounding. What Roger Federer is to tennis, Gurgaon is to horrific urban experiences.

Since I'm saying goodbye I won't forget the bits I've liked about Gurgaon. The variety of good (albeit expensive) eating places was a blessing for the foodie in me (Oz, China Club, Coriander Leaf, The Great Kebab Factory, Chor Bizarre, Sweet Obsession &c., take a bow!). Good accommodation is relatively cheap, and security deposits are an affordable 2 months' rent, unlike the usurious 10 months that they charge in Bangalore or Chennai, or the completely arbitrary, yet staggeringly large amounts that they would charge you in Mumbai. Hmmm. I think I've run out of positive things to say. If I remember any more, I'll update this post.

On the whole Gurgaon is an eminently avoidable experience. There were, of course, factors that made my stint there invaluable for me professionally, but in every other regard Gurgaon was utter rubbish. If anyone's considering moving there, for non-personal reasons, do remember that the cow that you ram your car into can cause enough damage to wipe out the increment in pay that you might be getting by moving there. Drive safely!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Thank You (a year in the life of a blog)

Yup, the blog is a year old. 53 posts old (this is the 54th). That's an average of a post a week, although averages can be deceptive, and I've not been anywhere as regular as that, and some posts have been just a line, like the one below. I know this is an excellent opportunity to write a long post about random things that happened in the past year, with a bit of gloss and a dash of glamour, and to make broad sweeping statements about broad sweeping matters. But i'll resist, and just say thank you.

Thank you.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


To feel what I feel now, is to feel everything there is to feel in the world. Everything.

More Bass on the Drum Monitor (The rambling saga of a mediocre band)

Apologies for cross-posting from Riff Cafe

Warning: Random

The Strawberry Fields crew had an award, we called it the NL Mitra Award (after our then Director). That was to be 'awarded' to the first band to speak those immortal words through the microphone...."er...Mike/Sidney/Dinakar.....could we have some more bass on the drum monitor please."

In those days we were not cool, and didn't play in bands, and didn't know that, as a matter of fact, rock bands always need more bass on the drum monitor. Heck you need more bass on every monitor, more important than anything, the bass is the fucking foundation, the bass gives you the rhythm, as well as the melodic (chordic?) base (ahem). I needed more bass on the monitors because the lead guitarist (apart from being a genuine maestro of the guitar) believed in the philosophy that rhythm guitarists were to be seen and not heard, and rhythm guitarists definitely did not deserve to hear anything but the virtuoso sound of the lead guitar.

And when we had the sound exactly as he wanted, we'd all merrily fuck up, because we couldn't hear anything except him playing. Yes we even managed to fuck up 'Breaking the Law.' I want to hear the bass and drums dammit, I can do without hearing the lead guitar and the vocals.

And once, when the sound guys (god bless you Shanthala Musicals) 'messed up' and we could hear everything on the monitors, the band ripped the place apart (okay, exaggeration there, the band concluded its set without any major faux pas). JD and I even pulled off our short twin-lead rather nicely. So the moral of the story is that we all need more bass on the drum monitor.

If we'd spent as much time on practising, as we spent on arguing about the name of the band, and various other even pettier issues, we might have been a decent band. But we didn't and so we weren't. We were called Grade Point. Ya, sucky name.

After immense amounts of cajoling, and applying liberal doses of maska on a certain Prof called Smiley, we got a storage room emptied of most of its contents (we still had to share it with a Godrej cupboard and some old CPUs and monitors), and converted it into a jam room. LLM classes were conducted above the storage room, and therefore we could not make noise while classes were going on, which, on account of our collective carelessness, we once did and got shouted at for.

I will not talk of the relative merits of the various members because, except for JD on lead guitars, we all pretty much sucked at what we did. Which did not stop us from doing covers of incredibly complex songs like 'Breaking the Law.' (if i hear that riff one more time, I will kill someone). But in our more inspired moments, we've jammed on bits of Iron Maiden's 'Revelations' and Ugly Kid Joe's 'Everything About You.' We covered CCR's 'Proud Mary' in which we sometimes even managed (gasp!) the harmony vocals. We helped Nair reach his feminine side by doing a cover of Tracy Chapman's 'Give Me One Reason.' Somewhere along the way, mostly thanks to JD, we even had a few original compositions, one of which was actually rather good.

We played a show at St.Johns where I opted out because I hadn't had time to jam with the band at all. That day I got to handle the console for the band, because Dinakar had to go to the loo. I felt incredibly powerful, and I moved the sliders and knobs around, even when it wasn't necessary. And the band loved the sound I gave them. Okay fine, the sound that Dinakar gave them, and I did nothing to spoil.

I think I mentioned the twin-lead before, hmmm, ya JD and I played a twin-lead interlude before the bridge on our OC 'light of my life' (yup, we were very original and groundbreaking when it came to naming songs). It was nice, I could step away from my mic, and JD would step away from his, and by the time we walked towards each other, the twin-lead would be over. But it felt good to be playing lead, instead of crummy rhythm. Second fiddle. Thoo.

I could bore you more right away, but maybe I'll save it for another instalment, or, if I am feeling especially benevolent, I'll lock it up and throw away the key.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


They said the man's name was Gold. I don't know if this was in any way connected to his real name, or whether it was some sort of nickname. He came in a poorly maintained yellow Toyota Hilux of indiscernible vintage. He travelled alone and I was surprised to see that he was not flaunting a large automatic weapon as appears to be the fashion in these parts. He was slimmer than I expected, better dressed than I expected, and on the whole failed to live up to my mental image of what a man named Gold ought to look like.

He asked me if I had my papers, and I pulled them out of my folder to hand them to him. He gestured with his left hand to keep them with me. He asked me to get in the van. I got in on the passenger side, and sat gingerly on the grimy rexine seat, which had clearly seen better days. I reached for the seatbelt to discover there wasn't one.

I was surprised to see he made no motion to start the vehicle. Instead he reached under his seat, pulled out a handgun and pointed it at me.

I realised I was fucked. If this were a movie, he'd have hammed a bit and delivered a few lines of dialogue, which would help you understand why exactly it is that I am in this mess. But this is real life, and I'm about to die. Fuck.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


literary ambition does not its equal have in literary skill. there's a verse in my head that's searching for words to form itself. the idea is clear, the message couldn't be clearer; the words and meter unfortunately, fail to turn up for the fuckers....who don't turn up for parties.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Riff Cafe

It's a music blog that a few of us have started. It's called Riff Cafe. It has music-related writing on it. Check it out

Do read. And comment.

And if it doesn't bore you to death, do spread the word. And if you are so inclined, join up as a contributor.