Friday, December 29, 2006

A Tribute to Ghalib

It was Mirza Asadullah Khan 'Ghalib' s birthday on December 27th. Like a ritual, a few events were organized in the capital to commemorate the occasion. A series of events at Ghalib's old haveli at Ballimaran, a handful of hastily organized mushairas, a couple of programmes on TV - and we had done our duty of remembering one of the greatest Urdu poets ever (in my opinion, The Greatest).

For me, however, Ghalib is more than just a poet. He is responsible for my foray into the delightful world of Urdu Adab. I'm still a novice when it comes to the Urdu language, but whatever I know and whatever Urdu poetry I've tried my hand at, it's all thanks to Ghalib. It goes back almost two decades when I saw Gulzar's television serial on Mirza Ghalib (in that respect I consider Ghalib and Gulzar as my poetry gurus). At that time I did not understand, leave alone appreciate, Ghalib's poetry. But the serial had such an impact on me that I decided to learn the Urdu language. I did not have a formal education in Urdu though. It started off with a "Learn Urdu in 30 Days" manual, soon graduating to reading poetry and prose in Urdu, of course with the aid of a humongous dictionary.

Even now, when my Urdu vocabulary is better, I cannot claim that I have the wherewithal to understand the meaning behind Ghalib's verses. Most of the time, I 'get' the words, but to 'get' the meaning is an exercise in mental calisthenics. Ghalib's uniqueness lies in the fact that his verses can be deceptively simple and annoyingly abstruse at the same time. His penchant for Persianized word constructions, non-traditional metaphors, innovative imagery, and complex thoughts earned him the dubious distinction of being called a creator of 'meaningless' and incomprehensible verses during his lifetime. In a remarkable demonstration of wit (even at the risk of being misconstrued as ego and false pride), he has written many tongue-in-cheek verses where he taunts his critics and detractors. See these lines for example:

न सताइश की तमनना न सिले की परवा
गर नहीं हैं मिरे अश`आर में म`नी न सही

( I have) neither a longing for praise, nor a care for reward
if there's no meaning in my verses, then so be it

This brings me to the other person who made me look at Ghalib in a completely new light (and even helped me understand the 'skill' required for the comprehension of Ghalib's verses) - Frances W. Pritchett, professor at Columbia University. Prof. Pritchett is an American but she has completely devoted herself to the Urdu Language, and her mastery over the language can put many native Urdu speakers also to shame. In one of her brilliant papers - "The Meaning of the Meaningless Verses", she has this to say about Ghalib and his detractors:
"Muhammad Husain ‘Āzād’, author of the great canon-forming literary history Āb-e hayāt (Water of Life, 1880), conspicuously dislikes Ghālib, and never misses an opportunity to take potshots at him. Introducing the classical ghazal tradition, Āzād explains that Ghālib’s work has grave problems as compared to that of earlier ustāds....

"Poor Ghālib, what a piquant situation: because of his love of ‘meaning creation’, his poetry is attacked as flawed and even meaningless. The situation is so dire, in Āzād’s eyes, that only one or two hundred of Ghālib’s Urdu verses are really satisfactory....

"Certainly Ghālib had to endure the hostility of those who genuinely preferred a simpler and more colloquial style, and of those who preferred an emphasis on romantic emotion rather than a more cerebral metaphysics. In general, people who liked their ghazal verses to be flowing (ravāñ) and readily, colloquially, intelligible, ended up furious at him: he could write such verses brilliantly when he chose, as his dīvān amply demonstrates, yet he so often didn’t choose! Why didn’t the wretch write more verses like (quotes a verse apparently appreciated by Zauq, Ghalib's arch rival who was like Salieri to Ghalib's Mozart) ? Behind the mockery of his contemporaries one can sense the deep irritation of envious colleagues and frustrated connoisseurs who see a major talent being misdirected into folly..."
(If you want to develop a taste for Ghalib's poetry, I strongly recommend Prof. Pritchett magnus opus - an online collection of commentaries on Ghalib's Urdu Ghazals- A Desertful of Roses is still work in progress)

What I like about Ghalib's verses is actually their apparent incomprehensibility. Deciphering the meaning behind those verses is probably infinitely more satisfying than cracking the Da Vinci Code. And to top it all, just when you think you have 'got' it, it has this annoying, yet challenging, tendency to slip out right from within your grip...and then you get back at grabbing it all over again. And what you might 'get' next might be very, very different. Sounds complicated? How about calling his verses 'elusive and multidimensional'? That is more comprehensible, isn't it?

Let me end with a verse I wrote yesterday. I have tried my hand at some wordplay here....can't say how successful I've been, but it's my own personal tribute to Ghalib on his birthday.

हर्ब-ए-इदराक में कुछ कम तो मुहारिब न हुए
जाँ लगा दी मगर अफ़सोस कि ग़ालिब न हुए

(In the war of understanding there were many warriors
Alas, they gave their lives but could not be victorious)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Dhoom Again!

OK, so I finally got to watch the much talked about, overhyped sequel to the under-hyped sleeper hit of 2004. And I'm glad I did! It is what is called as the perfect time-pass, paisa vasool film.

What Dhoom-2 lacks in terms of a coherent plot and neatly crafted screenplay, it more than compensates through a clever and consistent sprinkling of awe-inspiring stunts, energetically choreographed dance routines, picture-perfect scene compositions and oodles of eye candy.

Dhoom-2, like its predecessor, is the quintessential cop and robber tale where there's neither the place nor the need for logic. The film opens with a breathtaking visual of a lone train running through a vast Namibian desert. Though the execution of this robbery is disappointing (it almost seems that the writer and director felt that once they had a great setting, their task was done), it sets the stage for what would unfold over the next 2 hours. From then on we are drawn into a high-octane cat and mouse game (so what if the robber always has the upper hand...right till the end?). The action explodes with such energy that one doesn't get the time to think about the loopholes in the plot.

Yes, after the movie is over you wonder if the film would have been much better had the writer made it into a mind game between the adversaries - a kind of intelligent one-upmanship. But as long as you're in the theatre, you're hooked on! You don't regret that the cop - who insists that such games are won by the mind and not the bullet - has virtually no plan except planting a mole. You don't mind that the mole - seemingly a consummate crook herself - doesn't show any skill except loads of sexual energy. And you certainly don't mind that Mr. Perfect Thief gets away unscathed every single time, thanks to - if I may use the word - a DUMB cop who appears dumber than his bumbling side-kick. All this, because of the charismatic screen presence of Hrithik Roshan.

It wouldn't be wrong to say that Dhoom-2 belongs to Hrithik Roshan (Mr. A, Aryan). Mind you, that's not a tribute to his acting talent. He is at best an above-average actor, but when it comes to screen presence no one among the current crop of actors can come even closer to him. And boy, what a dancer! His dance movements are more unbelievable and awe-inspiring than the cable-supported, SFX-created action sequences. It is absolutely clear that Dhoom-2 was designed to be his showcase. How else would you explain the terribly underwritten character of the cop, or the fact that Hrithik is on the screen in 90% of the scenes?

And then there's Ash (Sunehri). Could anyone believe that her 'plastic beauty' persona could actually set the screen afire? What has she done to her body! What a metamorphosis!! Ash's Sunehri is HOT. She and Hrithik come across as the most perfect screen pairing in recent memory. But, hey, what was all that hullabaloo about their lip-lock?

On the acting front, Ash is adequate. All she is required to do is to look hot and be a perfect foil to Hrithik. She does precisely that with great élan. It's sad that Abhishek (Jai Dixit) got saddled with a hastily written role. It's unpardonable that the character of Jai Dixit, the main connecting link between the sequels - is so one-dimensional. Numerous reviews have lambasted Abhishek's acting in Dhoom-2, but the blame here lies with the producer-director-writer. They seem so hell bent on making this a showcase for Hrithik that they've given almost a step-motherly treatment to Abhishek's character. On his part, Abhishek honestly portrays what he's been asked to do.

Uday Chopra (Ali) should find solace in the fact that his father and brother are the most successful producers in India and they will continue to find roles for him in their films. He has no acting talent whatsoever. Hats off to Aditya Chopra for using the clever ploy of giving Ali's character dozens of one-liners that manage to draw a few laughs from the audience and divert them from Uday Chopra's unbelievable yet unquestionable lack of acting skills.

Should I get deeper into the negatives? For one, The music is very disappointing - had it not been for the Shaimak Davar's and Vaibhavi Merchant's choreography or Hrithik's and Ash's fluid dance movements the songs would have been unbearable to watch on screen. Also, despite a larger canvas and more style it doesn't cover any new ground compared to Dhoom....nah, I wouldn't get into all this. If one were to start, the list of negatives for Dhoom-2 might be quite long but why dwell on that? I found the film very entertaining and that's all that mattered to me while watching the film.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Not been writing

It's more than a month since I posted anything here. The only excuse I have for that is that I've been too busy at work. But that's just what it is - an excuse. There were lot of things I could've written about in the last month: the films I watched and loved - Casino Royale and The Departed; the book I've been reading - William Dalrymple's delightful The Last Mughal; the new music releases - Guru and Salaam-e-ishq; the house that I've bought; the severe bout of uveitis that is affecting me yet again; or even my recent trip to Bangalore.... but the fact remains that I haven't written anything.

I was 100% sure that I would write a review of Dhoom-2 once I watched it, but thanks to the stand-off between YRF and the multiplexes in Delhi I still haven't watched it. And here the excuse of being busy comes in handy. Since the only places where Dhoom-2 is running are very far from my house, lack of time is a convenient excuse. The other film I'm keen on watching is Kabul Express, and being a Yash Raj film it also isn't releasing in multiplexes near my house. Damn!

My genes are playing up on me yet again. Last week uveitis came visiting my eye again (was it the sixth time?). But this time instead of the regular right eye, it chose to try out my left eye - my perfectly normal eye. Result - my left eye is all blurred, the right is weak anyway... so without my specs i can't even see properly. Add to that the long hours I need to spend in front of my laptop at work, and you have the perfect recipe of perpetual headaches!!!

Ah, the predicament of a film buff who can't watch a film!!

Who do I blame? Two parties haggling over a few extra bucks? Or the twisted, helical ribbons that form the basis of my very existence?