Thursday, June 22, 2006

MI-III: Impossible!

I'm not a fan of action movies.

I'm certainly not a fan of sequels, whose sole purpose is to cash-in on the success of the earlier films, so much so that being repetitive is almost regarded as the sure-fire formula.

What if it's a sequel of an action movie? Well…

I had no intention of watching Mission: Impossible 3. I avoided it as much as I could, but what could I do when my wife had a sudden, unexpected craving to watch Tom Cruise?

Anyhow, I went to watch the movie last evening only because I had no other option. I went into the theatre with no expectations whatsoever. I knew I would not like the movie. Full marks to Tom Cruise and J. J. Abrams for not disappointing me at all! Just as I had expected, I didn't like the film. So what if it had the uber-cool Tom Cruise, some 'mind-blowing' action (logic-defying, if I may add), sought to provide the vicarious pleasures of globe-trotting(Berlin, Rome, Vatican, Shanghai...), and showcased some great futuristic (almost unbelievable) technology! It just wasn't something I could enjoy.

I can think of only one word when I think of MI-III – IMPOSSIBLE. Impossible plot, impossible action, impossible logic, impossible characters – impossible everything. The opening sequences – pseudo-sentimental engagement party followed by a completely outrageous (almost dizzying) rescue mission – were impossible to watch. The movie did start getting my attention somewhere in between, but once the action took centre stage I was off again. I had no interest in finding out what the $850 m 'Rabbit’s Foot' was, or why everyone was going so hyper about it. For all I cared, it might well have been a 'very expensive bunny appendage'. That, if you haven't seen the movie, is how Benji, the only likeable character in the film, describes it, and probably is the only truly funny line in the whole movie.

"Well I'm assuming the rabbit’s foot is some sort of a codename for a deadly weapon, otherwise it could just be some very expensive bunny appendage."

Before I end, another thought – why does Ethan Hunt come across to me as such a shallow character, who gets his heroism by sheer luck?

Did I miss something?

Monday, June 19, 2006


वो उम्र कम कर रहा था मेरी
मैं साल अपने बढ़ा रहा था

गुलज़ार साहब का यह एक शे’र मुझे बहुत पसन्द है। एक सीधी सी बात बहुत ही आसान लफ़्ज़ों में बयान की गयी है; लेकिन ये फ़लसफ़ा हक़ीक़त के कितना क़रीब है? आज जब मेरा जन्मदिन है, ये शे’र मेरे ज़ेहन में बारहा गूँज रहा है।

एक वक़्त था जब मैं इस दिन अपनी गुज़श्ता ज़िन्दगी के सफ़र पर निकल पड़ता था। ये एक ज़रिया था अपनी ज़िन्दगी की आशा और निराशा, नशेब-ओ-फ़राज़, उपलब्धियों और असफलताओं के आंकलन का। एक मुसाहिब की तरह जो नामा-ए-ज़िन्दगी में सूद-ओ-ज़ियाँ का हिसाब रखता है। लेकिन अब मैं इस वार्षिक कार्यकलाप में अपना समय व्यर्थ नहीं करता हूँ। भला क्यों?

मेरा ये मानना है कि जहां एक तरफ़ अपनी गुज़री हुई ज़िन्दगी का जायज़ा लेने में अपनी ग़लतियों से सीख लेने का लाभ अवश्य है, वहीं दूसरी ओर एक ख़तरा भी है – अपने माज़ी में जीने का। साल दर साल मैंने पाया कि इस क्रिया से मुझे लाभ कम और हानि अधिक हुई है। जब-जब मैं इस पुनरावलोकन की क्रिया में उतरता, मेरा मन बस अतीत की निराशा और दुख में जा अटकता। और फिर उससे अपना दामन खेंच पाना मेरे इख़्तियार से बाहर हो जाता। नतीजा ये कि अपने माज़ी से सीख ले कर अपने मुस्तक़बिल को संवारने कि बजाए मेरा वर्तमान भी अतीत की सियाह रोशनी से घिर जाता। सालगिरह एक ख़ुशी का अवसर होता है, इस दिन ग़मों के आग़ोश में रहना निहायत बेवक़ूफ़ी ही है। इस आत्मघाती चक्र से निकलना मेरे लिये अनिवार्य हो चला था। सो मैने आत्ममन्थन की राह तज दी।

अब आप पूछेंगे कि भला इस बात से गुलज़ार साहब के शे’र का क्या सम्बन्ध? सतही तौर पर तो कुछ भी नहीं। लेकिन ज़रा ग़ौर से देखें तो गुलज़ार साहब माज़ी के बजाय हाल-ओ-मुस्तक़बिल की फ़िक्र बयान कर रहें हैं। हाँ, अपने भविष्य की इस सोच को नकारात्मक अथवा सकारात्मक दोनों तरह से देखा जा सकता है। एक निराशावादी व्यक्ति इस शे’र को ग़मगीन क़रार दे सकता है। इस नज़रिये से पहले मिसरे को शे’र का मरकज़ मान कर अपनी आइन्दा उम्र के घटने का विलाप किया जा सकता है। लेकिन मेरा दृष्टिकोण थोड़ा पृथक है। मैं इसे एक आशावादी शे’र मानता हूँ। मेरी समझ से इस शे'र का सार दूसरे मिसरे में छिपा है। 'साल बढ़ाना' मेरी नज़र में समझदार होने का द्योतक है। अपनी समझ, अपने अनुभव से अपने भविष्य को रचनात्मक मोड़ देने का प्रयास है।

काश मैं अपने माज़ी के ग़मों में उलझने के बजाए अपने अनुभवों से सीख लेने की क्षमता रखता।

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Right to Information

Now that the Rahul Mahajan episode has moved from the front pages of newspapers to the tenth, I'm ready to express my opinion. Enough has been said about it, tons of newsprint and air time devoted to it. My intention is not to go into the details of the case, the rights and wrongs of it. I just want to express my opinion on an article I read recently in one of the newspapers.

The columnist in question (who, interestingly, works for a news channel) wrote about how we, as common people, change our opinions like a chameleon changes its colours. The view was that we are 'responsible' for first painting Rahul Mahajan as a saint, a dutiful son of a wronged father, then sympathizing with him, and finally writing him off as a spoilt son of a high-profile celebrity. True that the change in public opinion has been drastic, but how can you blame the people for that?

An opinion, by definition, is something a person believes or accepts as being sound or true. And this 'belief' is based on the available information. So, if one has limited information available, one’s opinion will obviously be limited. And as more information becomes available, the opinion is bound to change.

Now let's looks at the information we have had about Rahul Mahajan. When we first saw him presenting a picture of remarkable maturity and poise at the time of his father's funeral, that was all the information we had. What we saw on television screens – not to mention the media's role in highlighting this - was indeed an image of a dutiful son.

Jump forward a month, when we first heard that Rahul Mahajan had been hospitalized and Vivek Moitra had died. The instant reaction was that of sympathy – the family was going through more than its fair share of misfortune. Again, that was all the information we had. Again, it was the media that shaped this reaction.

A few hours later, more information started coming in, more skeletons stumbled out of the closet. Over the next few weeks, the facts were clear. And we were wiser! Rahul Mahajan’s transformation from Shravan Kumar to Duryodhan was complete!

I see nothing wrong in this shifting opinion. If at all, I would blame the media, which in most cases plays the role - or at least is expected to play the role - of the 'informer' or 'shaper of public opinion'. It hasn't been entirely objective about this entire case. When Rahul Mahajan was lighting his father’s pyre, the words and tone used to describe it on TV, the completely uncalled for sentimentality demonstrated by the commentators, the images that were played ceaselessly for days, shaped the public opinion. And now that we know that he did drugs, he's been made out to be among the worst villains around. Neither of these two extremes is justified. The truth is somewhere in between (even though our good old ex-PM chooses to believe in Rahul's sainthood; it's a case of bad company, he opines). Rahul Mahajan has committed a crime, just like so many others all over the country. Let the law take its own course, even though it can be horribly lop-sided at times. This case simply doesn't deserve the media spotlight it's getting.

I'm appalled by the degeneration of the electronic media in these days of 24x7 news channels. Anything can make it to the prime-time news bulletins. It doesn't stop at that. Each controversial clipping is played ad nauseum till you throw up in disgust. Remember the disaster on the ramp a few months back, or the Mika-Rakhi Sawant episode just last week? News channels are becoming revoltingly voyeuristic and sleazier (and completely irresponsible and irrelevant) by the day. All this in the name of people's right to information!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

तामील-ए-हुक्म (Execution of Command)

लो हुक्म-ए-तर्क-ए-रब्त की तामील हो गयी
अफ़्सोस है फ़क़त यही ताजील हो गयी

क़ुर्बत हुआ जो करती थी गुफ़्तार में कभी
ऐ हैफ़ फ़ासलों में क्यूँ तब्दील हो गयी

ख़ुद को दिया फ़रेब मुहब्बत के नाम पर
अच्छा हुआ कि बात की तफ़्सील हो गयी

तक़्सीरवार बोलिये ठहराएँ किस को हम
अपना ही था क़ुसूर जो तज़्लील हो गयी

रखेगा याद हम को भी हर हाल में जहाँ
हस्ती हमारी दर्द की तम्सील हो गयी

हुक्म = order, command; तर्क = abandonment, desertion; रब्त = connection, relationship; तामील = execution (of command); ताजील = haste
क़ुर्बत = closeness; गुफ़्तार = conversation; हैफ़ = Alas!; तब्दील = change, modification, alteration, conversion
फ़रेब = delusion; तफ़्सील = explanation, analysis, clarification
तक़्सीरवार = guilty; क़ुसूर = fault; तज़्लील = debasement, humiliation
हस्ती = existence; तम्सील = example, allegory, comparison

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

My Ignorance

क ख ग घ ङ
च छ ज झ ञ
ट ठ ड ढ ण
त थ द ध न
प फ ब भ म
Ever wondered why the Hindi alphabet follows a particular sequence?

Hindi is my mother tongue. Yet, I never even thought about why the Hindi alphabet followed a particular sequence. The only thing I possibly gave a thought to was that every un-aspirated letter is followed by the aspirated version. But I never realized that there was a pattern behind the sequence. To me the sequence was given, there was no need to find a reason, which in my mind did not even exist.

Till I read Jhumpa Lahiri's 'The Namesake'. In her delightful first novel, she describes the Bengali alphabet, which is similar to the Hindi alphabet, in one of the passages:

"…which begins at the back of (his) throat with an unaspirated K and marches steadily across the roof of (his) mouth…."
…and then moves on to the teeth and then to the lips.

Now try to recall the alphabet again. Isn't the reason behind the sequence fairly obvious now?

Fascinating, isn't it?

I am surprised that having studied Hindi in school and spent most of my adult life reading Hindi literature and even trying my hand at writing in the language, I didn't even know something as basic is this.

How ignorant have I been!

For more information about the Hindi (phonetic) alphabet, read this Wikipedia article on Indian languages.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Bitten by the Reading Bug

I know a lot of people who love to spend their spare time reading a book - reading is a passion for them. Almost all of them picked the habit as a kid. In that respect, I’m more of an exception. The reading bug never bit me as a kid, though my parents, especially my mom, were always strong advocates of reading as a habit. They would take my brother and me to Book Fairs and buy a lot of books for us, but while my brother took on to reading fairly early – making quantum jumps from Enid Blytons to Hardy Boys to Ludlums by the time he was 10, the habit never really caught on with me. If at all I read anything, it was only due to peer pressure; I didn't want to feel left out when my brother and our friends discussed the latest Hardy Boys adventure. I didn't enjoy reading as a kid. I didn't have the patience for it.

It was fairly late in life that I truly discovered the pleasure of reading. Actually, it was the writing bug that bit me first. It started with a diary that I maintained very religiously, then I moved to the next logical step of shaping my diary into a semi-autographical book, and finally I found my passion - poetry. And when I started writing, I was naturally drawn towards reading. Since I had chosen Hindi and Urdu as the languages of choice for my poetry, I mostly read classical Hindi Literature and Urdu poetry. After a while, the language didn't matter. I was hooked and would read just about anything I could lay my hands on.

Books have been my constant companion for many years now. They have been with me through thick and thin. There have been times where I have neglected them due to pressures of time, but like a faithful friend they have never left me. The kind of comfort and solace one finds in friendship, I find in books. If I'm not in the best of moods, if I'm depressed, if I'm lonely, or, for that matter, if I'm in high spirits, if I'm elated – books have always been with me. They are with me, yet give me the space I sometimes yearn for.

When I'm in a depressingly philosophical mood, I think books are in fact better than people. They don't have the power to hurt you, or have expectations that you can't possibly live up to. If you aren't able to give them enough attention, they don't accuse you of being detached, or insensitive, or inconsiderate. On the flip side, if you spend a lot of time with them, they don't question your motives, or look for intentions where none exist, or undermine your feelings, or demand their space, or want to cut-off, or expect a realignment...They remain with you unconditionally.

I'm amazed at the number of books I've read in the last 2-3 months. And these books don't fall into any particular genre. I've read poetry (Ghalib, Gulzar, Vikram Seth), biographies (Ghalib, Two Lives), short stories (Gulzar, Jhumpa Lahiri), books about relationships (An Equal Music, A Misalliance), family saga (A Suitable Boy), magic-realism (Shalimar the Clown), chewing-gum fiction (Chetan Bhagat variety), thrillers (Dan Brown type), and even Harry Potter books all over again. Right now I'm reading Jhumpa Lahiri's 'Namesake'. And I have already bought a few more books that I would read after that. I've enjoyed reading each of these books despite the inconsistency in their literary value. More importantly, they have helped me tide over the tough times I have been through. They have been my true friends, my soulmates.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Omen - What's New?

I'm well past the age when - ridiculous as it might sound now - catching a film first-day-first-show was my ultimate aim. The movie buff in me still tries to catch most 'buzz' films in the very first weekend, but that's because I prefer watching films before their reviews are out, and I can be sure that my opinion is not clouded by what others have to say. I don't go out of my way for a matinee ticket on Day 1. But this flick was different. I certainly wanted to watch it on the first day. For the simple reason that it released on 6-6-6. Yes, you guessed it right: I'm talking about The Omen.

As luck would have it, I couldn't make it on Day 1, but I did catch it on Friday evening (sadly, the date wasn't the 13th).

I have nothing against remakes, but when I go to watch a remake of an old movie I expect something new - a reinterpretation of the original material. If it has to be same as the original, then why bother? When Sanjay Leela Bhansali makes his own version of Devdas I disagree with the purists because that was his unique interpretation of the story, vulgar and unjustifiably ostentatious though it was. Or for that matter, when Pradeep Sarkar makes his delightful interpretation of Parineeta, I am all for it. But if John Moore remakes The Omen, I have a problem.

The original The Omen (1976) ranks as my favorite horror film of all time, primarily because it was not like a run-of-the-mill horror film. There were no horrific faces, no scenes that would make your stomach churn, yet it was SCARY. The music, the mood, the plot, and of course the kid who played the part of Damien, made me really scared (probably my age at that time also had something to do with it). The remake - released on 6-6-6 - is an extremely faithful recreation of the original. This is precisely why I have a problem with the remake. If John Moore had nothing new to add by way of treatment (except for a hasty effort to relate to recent catastrophes), why couldn't he let the original be? The only reason I can see why the film was remade was to cash in on the release date. After all, we aren't going to see another 6-6-6 in our lifetime.

Before you get me wrong, let me clarify that I am not saying that the 2006 remake is a bad film. As I said, it's a fairly faithful remake. It captures the same mood of the original and does have a few scary bits, which did make me jump despite having watched the original a number of times. The acting is reasonably good (not outstanding though), John Moore's direction adequate, and the pacing in the script is just right for the subject. Yet, one expected something different, something unique, which unfortunately is missing.

There were a few things in the original that have always stayed with me. First, the Academy Award winning background score went a long way in creating a scary atmosphere in the original. Sadly the score in the remake pales in comparison. Then there are a couple of scenes, most of which have been faithfully recreated in the remake, but the decapitation scene, which was my favorite in the original, has been modified. It is effective, but it fails to evoke to same sense of shock and horror that the original did. Some people say that we should not compare remakes with the originals. I agree, but in this case the remake is so much like the original that one can't help but compare.

While The Omen (2006) is a fairly well-made movie, it falls way below my expectations. I would rather watch the original again.

Friday, June 09, 2006


मेरी कविताओं के संदर्भ में लोग अक्सर मेरे समक्ष एक प्रश्न रखते हैं। भला मुझे कविता लिखने की प्रेरणा कहाँ से मिलती है? इस का उत्तर देना मेरे लिये इतना आसान नहीं। सच मानिये तो कोई भी कवि इस प्रश्न का उत्तर आसानी से नहीं दे सकेगा। जहाँ तक मेरी बात है, मेरी कविताओं के प्रेरणा स्रोत इतने विविध और भिन्न हैं कि मेरे लिये उनका व्याख्यान करना सम्भव नहीं। कभी मेरे जीवन के अनुभव कविता का रूप धारण कर कोरे पृष्ठ पर अवतरित हो जाते हैं, तो कभी दूसरों पर गुज़रते हालात छन्दों या शे'रों में परिवर्तित हो जाते है। कभी तो औरों की लिखी कविता से भी मैं प्रेरित हो जाता हूँ।

उदाहरण के लिये ये शे’र पढ़िये –

शहर में तो रुख़सती दहलीज़ तक महदूद है
गाँव में पक्की सड़क तक लोग पहुँचाने गये।

है न एक निहायत उम्दा और बलीग़ शे’र? ये मेरे एक मित्र ने लिखा है। जब ये शे’र मैने पहली बार सुना, मुझ पर इतना गहरा प्रभाव पड़ा कि मुझे अपनी तमाम शायरी इस एक शे’र के आगे फीकी लगी। ये दो मिसरे अपने आप में कितना गहरा फ़लसफ़ा समेटे हुए हैं। मैं इतना अधिक प्रभावित हुआ इस शे’र से कि मैने इसी ‘तरह’ (बहर, क़ाफ़िया और रदीफ़ का निरधारण) में एक पूरी ग़ज़ल कहने की ठान ली। वैसे ये इतना आसान नहीं था। दो-तीन शे’र तो मैने तुरन्त लिख लिये, परन्तु सही ‘मतला’ मिलने के कुछ महीने लग गये।

आख़िरकार मेरी ग़ज़ल तैयार है – हालांकि मुझे नहीं लगता कि मेरी पूरी ग़ज़ल इस एक शे’र का मुक़ाबला कर सकती है। फ़ैसला अब आप के हाथ में है–

गरचिह हम वादाशिकन के नाम से जाने गये
बाइस-ए-ग़फ़्लतशियारी उनको समझाने गये

ऐश-ओ-इशरत की तलब उस पर फ़ना होने की चाह
महफ़िल-ए-रक्स-ए-शरर की ओर परवाने गये

ज़ुल्म ख़ुद पर करने का हम को अजब ये शौक़ है
बज़्म-ए-ख़ूबाँ में हम अपने दिल को बहलाने गये

ये हमारी ख़ू थी जो भेजा किये उनको ख़तूत
वो मगर क्यूँ ग़ैर से तहरीर पढ़वाने गये

दोपहर की रौशनी में लगते हैं शफ़्फ़ाफ़ सब
रात जो आयी बदन के दाग़ पहचाने गये

है नहीं उम्मीद कोई उनसे शफ़क़त की हमें
चाक-ए-दिल ख़ून-ए-जिगर दुनिया को दिखलाने गये

क़ैस-ओ-लैला शीरीं और फ़रहाद फिर हम और तुम
दास्तान-ए-इश्क़ में बस जुड़ते अफ़साने गये

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Failed Teacher

"… When our students fail, we, as teachers, too, have failed." ~ Marva Collins

If there in even a modicum of truth in this statement, I have failed miserably as a teacher.

First up, I'm not a professional teacher. I'm not even someone who takes up teaching as a pastime because of one's passion. I became a teacher by default.

It was a few days after Christmas last year (or was it New Year?) that I received a call in the office from someone from a business school in Delhi. They had, I was told, started a new course as part of their MBA curriculum. Since the field is very new (more so in India), they were having a problem finding the right faculty to teach the course – there aren't many academicians who have worked in that area, and very few companies who had adopted the practice in India. How did I qualify? Simply because the company I work for is known to be one of the pioneers in that area.

At first I wasn't sure if I wanted to teach. I had never taught before, was quite uncomfortable standing before a large crowd, and, more importantly, I was not at all an expert in the subject I was supposed to teach. I had some practical experience at best, which in fact was extremely limited considering the fact that I didn't really know what was happening outside my company. Add to that the extremely short period of time I was given to decide – 4 days to decide and 6 days to deliver my first lecture.

Anyhow, in pursuit of an interesting experience, I agreed. That's how I became a teacher. By default.

Teaching is a tough job. I had clearly underestimated the amount of preparation required to deliver one lecture of 90 minutes. On the eve of my first set of lectures, I spent my entire Friday evening (well past midnight) just preparing for my inaugural lecture (this set the tone for all my Friday evenings for the next 3 months). The first lecture was tough, but I slowly started enjoying the entire experience of teaching and by the time the term ended, I didn't want it to end.

However, one thing that kept bothering me all along was my perception that the quality of students was not what I would expect in a business school. Most of my students had no interest in studying, they would attend classes only because they had to, they would not waste time on anything that required them to do some work (the assignments they submitted were horrendous), and so on. Very soon I gave up on them. There were a few 'good' students in each section and I spent most of my effort teaching them, because they were the only ones who seemed to be enjoying the subject.

Now this is where I failed. If I were a good teacher, I would have generated an interest for the subject among a majority of the class. It is so easy to put the blame on the students. If they didn't take my classes, or the subject I taught, seriously it was my failure more than theirs. The final exam evaluation was the last straw. I have just finished evaluating all the exam papers (179 in all!!!) and more than 30% of the students – which is equal to one entire section – have failed.

I would have considered myself a reasonably good teacher if this figure was, say, 15%. But 30%!!! One-third of the class!!!

Nah, I didn't do a good job.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Fanaa - Disappointing!!

By this time we all know about the controversy Fanaa – rather Aamir Khan - has generated in Gujarat; and we also know that the film is breaking all box office records in the rest of the country (collections of Rs. 320 million in the first week). I have always believed that the box-office is not a measure of the quality of a film. Some of the best films I've seen have been box-office disasters, and I have simply hated some of the biggest blockbusters (Gadar, the biggest Bollywood hit of all time, for one).

It's been two days since I watched Fanaa, but I’m yet to make up my mind whether I liked the film or not. It's certainly not a film I regret watching; yet it is also true that I was disappointed big time. A Yashraj Film starring two of my favourite actors – Aamir and Kajol – was certainly a big movie event, and I had high hopes. But the film just did not live up to its promise. I must, however, admit that while I was watching the movie (and also now while I write this piece) my personal biases came in the way of me being completely objective.

If this piece seems like unnecessary nitpicking, it has a reason. I have a fundamental problem with the film's director, Kunal Kohli. This goes back a long way, almost 9-10 years back, when he used to host a film programme on TV (I think it was called Chalo Cinema). I never agreed with his reviews. What I despised about his reviews was that he reviewed films as an expert in film making, and obviously he had no credentials to support the claim (he hadn't started making films then). I distinctly remember that in 1997, he completely debunked Yash Chopra's Dil To Pagal Hai. Not that it was a great film, but I felt Kunal Kohli was being unnecessarily critical because he was supposed to be a 'critic'. Well, there's nothing wrong with that for everyone is entitled to his or her views – it's a free country after all, but I was quite shocked a few months later when in the very same programme, while looking back on the films of 1997, Kunal Kohli counted it as one of the year’s best! How could a film that was dubbed as a 'mistake' in an illustrious director’s oeuvre, could become a 'good' film in a matter of just a few months? You guessed it - because it went on to become the biggest hit of the year! By that logic, Mr. Kunal Kohli, you've probably made the best film of 2006.

But I don't go by that logic. Box office success means nothing to me; for me a good film is something that I enjoy watching - it must make me laugh, cry, think, ponder; it should keep me engrossed. I have mixed opinions about Fanaa for this very reason. I never felt bored despite its inordinate length and, to be fair, it had some good points, yet there were so many things that irritated me. And yes, the film did set me thinking, but all I've been thinking about are the negative aspects of the film. Let me first quickly get done with the good points before I take Mr. Kunal Kohli to task.

Kajol and Aamir are the highlights of the movie. They share a crackling chemistry and do a great job with their roles, terribly under-written they might be. Kajol, for one, lends an infectious and intoxicating charm to an otherwise dull fare. Aamir is absolutely brilliant, especially in the second half. Then there’s the music - good poetry (Prasoon Joshi) and simple melodies (Jatin-Lalit). And, of course, the pristine beauty of Poland (masquerading as Kashmir).

The biggest problem with the film is inconsistent writing. The script is patchy to say the least, the characters unpardonably under-written, and the dialogue cheesy, corny, contrived, convoluted… I'm running short of adjectives. I have a few questions for Mr. Kohli.

    • Do you think it's believable that a tourist guide (even if he's played by the oh-so-charming Aamir Khan) can flirt shamelessly with a few girls on a visit from another state, and neither the girls nor their chaperon would do anything to stop him? If anything, they only egg him on in this film.
    • Can the mother of a blind girl who has had a sheltered life (so we presume), encourage her daughter to get married (!!) to her newly found shehzada even though the parents knows nothing about him?
    • What was that nuclear missile/ trigger mumbo-jumbo all about? Couldn't you come up with something more original and, if I may say, believable?
    • Why was Shiney Ahuja, a powerhouse of talent, wasted in a two-bit role?
    • Why did you have to make that sweet kid mouth such heavy duty dialogues? It almost seemed that we were back in the good old black and white era when children in film were more philosophical than adults.
    • Why on earth did you have to come up with such moth-ridden dialogues? Every time the characters tried to say something profound, it made me wince. The dialogues were so highly contrived that I squirmed in my seat.
    • If you had to use poetry in the first half, why couldn't you get a good poet to do that job for you? Why not Prasoon Joshi, who wrote such good poetry for the songs? Poetry can be a great device to convey romance (remember, Sahir's great words in Yash Chopra's own Kabhi Kabhie), but I refuse to accept an attempt at amateurish tukbandi as poetry. I might be an amateur poet, but I can certainly come up with better lines that what Kajol and Aamir have been forced to mouth. I'm putting the blame on you, Mr. Kohli, because you have been credited with the dialogue. If it was Prasoon Joshi who wrote the shayari, I'm amazed at his inconsistency. That adds to my point of 'inconsistent writing'
    • And when will you learn to eschew cliché? Take the scene where Rishi Kapoor and Aamir Khan are about the leave the house, the kid comes, hugs Rishi Kapoor and says, "Nana, I love you". You know precisely what's going to happen next.

Mr. Kohli's lack of attention to detail is shocking! Had it been any other director, I would've ignored this aspect. But not for Kunal Kohli – this is where my personal bias comes in and I can't help but indulge in shameless nitpicking:

    • Kajol visits Delhi in the week of January 26th, but have one look at Rajpath (as shown in the movie) and it's obvious that it's not January 26th. Where are the barricades and the temporary structures that come up on Rajpath around that time?
    • It's raining in Delhi on January 28th….very unusual, but not impossible. But why does the song have to refer to it as saawan which refers more to the monsoon month than rain per se. The director could've changed the date in the film to August 15th, without compromising on an important plot detail.
    • Kajol has to catch a train at 10 AM in the morning. She's already a little late and wants to quickly buy a chess set for her dad on her way to the railway station. She manages to do so, as we see her clutching on to the chess set at the station. Now, I would love to know of a shop in Delhi that is open at around 9 AM in the morning.
    • When Aamir and Kajol get down from the train, it is fairly evident from the mountains in the backdrop that it's nowhere near Delhi.
    • How come there are no other fellow travelers on the train with Kajol and friends? Not entirely improbable, but not very probable either.
    • The storm is supposed to be so bad that it is difficult to Aamir to leave Kajol's house and for the Indian army to come there looking for him. Yet, the weather is remarkably clear when there's time to sing a song outdoors (it starts snowing again as soon as as the song ends!).
    • If Poland had to be passed off as Kashmir, a little bit of conscious art direction could have lent more authenticity to it. The house, and all the props that we see, are clearly not Indian, least of all Kashmiri.

I think I've already written enough…there're still many more faults in the script, but you get the gist.

In short, Fanaa suffers primarily because of the filmmakers who thought that once they had roped in Kajol and Aamir, that was all they needed. It is obvious that the script came just as an afterthought. And that is the film's weakest link.

There's another thing that bothers me - how could Aamir Khan, who is rumoured to be extremely finicky about the scripts he chooses, agree to such a half-baked, inconsistent, and criminally under-developed script?

Disclaimer: This review, if you can call it that, is written in the very style Kunal Kohli used in his TV programme. I'm not responsible if it sounds unreasonable or unfair.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Da Vinci Code - Dan or Ron?

So the film is finally out! Is it good? Does it live up to the hype?

Everyone who has seen the film will tell you that the book is better. Of course it is. But does that necessarily make it a bad film? Not at all, but let me try first to analyse why the book seems better.

When was the last time you watched a film that was as good as (if not better than) the book it was based on. For a moment let's forget about The Godfather or the LoTR trilogy (though some people do feel that these films could not capture the spirit of the books – I disagree). I think that books and films are very different media: what works in one does not necessarily work in the other. In a book, the author can easily delve into the minds of its characters; all he needs is some good imagination and a way with words. But how can one capture that on a visual medium like film? There are a few time tested techniques for that, but they don’t always work. Let's take two examples – a dream, and the thought process a person goes through while, say, cracking a code. While a good, imaginative director can visually depict a dream very well, it's quite a challenge to portray a person’s thought process on screen, no matter how good the actor is. That's precisely where The Da Vinci Code, the film, cannot live up to the promise of the book.

The other constraint that a film has is that of time. While Dan Brown could take his own sweet time to go into the details of how Robert Langdon cracked the codes, Ron Howard does not have that luxury. He had to condense all of it into 150 minutes (which by itself is quite longer than an average Hollywood film). So we have Tom Hanks quickly cracking all the codes from 'The Vitruvian Man' to the 'pinnacle' to the 'Fibonacci Sequence' to 'The Mona Lisa' to 'Madonna of the Rocks' in a matter of just 5 minutes of screen time. Agreed that Robert Langdon cracks the code fairly quickly in the book as well, but the whole process of putting the jigsaw together is explained through many pages. So it sounds much more believable in the book than in the film.

Now let's come to the most important reason. Why was the book so popular? It's true that it was written in a very racy style, but I think the reason for its unprecedented popularity was something else. It was shocking (an extremely clever juxtaposition of fact and fiction)! So when you read the book, you were hooked on because of the shocking twists and turns that came up with alarming (at times also a little predictable) regularity. Now when you've read the book and borne the shocks, what else can you expect in the film? So I don't blame the people who feel that the film is not as engrossing as the book. However, I would love to hear the views of someone who knew very little about the book before watching the film. I doubt if I will find anyone like that, though.

Back to my original question, Is it a bad film? I don't think so. If a film can engross me for 150 minutes, despite the fact that I know exactly what would happen next, it has to be the work of a competent director. So Mr. Ron Howard, you get my thumbs up!

Before I end, I must quote what my favorite critic, Roger Ebert writes about 'The Da Vinci Code':

'Dan Brown's novel is utterly preposterous; Ron Howard's movie is preposterously entertaining.'