Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Life in the US of A

The last few weeks have been so tumultuous. After years of resisting a trip outside the country, I finally gave in and 'came abroad'. To the US! What a trip it has been! If ever there was an experience worthy of being labeled 'a bundle of contradictions', this would be it.
New York was where I landed – the city where I would work, learn and live for 4 weeks. After the mandatory (for me) 1 day of pining for the 'comfort of the routine', I switched into a (mandatory) hyper-curious mode.
The highlight of the second day was a futile attempt to penetrate mainstream culture by taking the Metro to work. All I had, was a laptop (stuffed with all sorts of wires and connections, 1 mobile phone and its bulky charger), a duffel bag filled with the following contents - water (yes, I thought the office may be a desert), fruits (I rightly estimated that my Indian tummy would accept nothing strongly non-vegetarian), books (yes, it's funny that I went to my first day at work with the optimistic view that I would have tons of time to sit idly and flip through a couple of pages...), lots of stationery (to be fair to me, I was only being well-prepared), a planner, a mobile phone, moisturizer (well, it was close to 5 degrees centigrade) and a handbag (yes, how could a lady be seen without one?!). Well, you know how that Metro ride went, don't you? I had several startled Americans dodging me, as successive stops would hurl me at them with a force accentuated by gravity and body weight! It was a game they enjoyed and I quickly tired of, so no more Metro rides after that.
The third day was forcibly leaving behind the duffel bag and its contents and focusing on acquainting myself with the city. Where better to start than the food? Mexican food, sandwiches and lots of juice - the sum total of my diet. All this culminated in a strange (never-before-experienced) fondness and nostalgia for 'Vegetarian, Indian food'. I was beginning to give up - foreign land, too hectic for me to adjust, food too far removed from my comfort zone...
Day 4 - I was sent on a field trip to Chicago. And my life changed! See, being a Qualitative researcher, travel was a reality that I lived with most of the week. Travel brought out the survival instincts and the explorer facet of my personality. But NY had done me in with its fast pace. Too much of a departure from India, that too Bangalore! Chicago on the other hand, was a perfect mid-point. It had most of the amenities and the quirks of America but it was a tad slower than NY. People here, walked...as opposed to the hordes that galloped in NY. People here, had smiles on their faces...as opposed to the grim faces on Manhattan roads. 2 days here, and I felt ready to face the pace of NY.
We got back and I got in - to the rhythm and the joy that is life in New York. Never feeling alone on the road (there are people purposefully making their way somewhere even at 1 in the night, much like Bombay). Never having to forage for food (the neighborhood deli was open till 4 in the morning). Never having to look far for good coffee (Starbucks made sure I didn't miss 'Inch' back in Bangalore). Most importantly, I saw a side of the city that thrilled me. Like Bombay was for several years (still is, to some extent), NY is America's city of dreams. NY has something for everyone with an imagination - opera singers, artists, documentary makers, people with alternative sexual preferences, children's book writers...Everyone comes here with a dream! People come here in droves, live in bleak apartments, race through the day, handle multiple jobs (one for their soul, one for their stomach, one for their mind) and yet, have a terrific sense of humor (maybe that's what keeps them going).They live off sandwiches and deli-coffee (muddy but piping hot) and yet, will 'splurge' on Starbucks coffee - 'just to feel better about my life'. They rush through the streets and yet, will sit for hours on a museum's doorstep watching an impromptu mime performance.They have no qualms about 'throwing a party' in a small, bleak apartment. They would take up a job for their imagination - "I am doing this coz I think I would go crazy from just doing office work all day...but that gives me money and this gives me life".This city's love for culture though, is distinct from Bombay. There are no social or economic strings attached to acquainting oneself with or appreciating art and culture here. People work as ushers in Broadway, to be able to experience the thrill of the musical, firsthand. Waiters in restaurants save up money to see 'The Phantom...'. Art, in its myriad forms is amply evident in the city's bloodstream. Right from impromptu violin performances at the subway, to rapping on buses, to graffiti on the walls.
So, I finally fell in love with the city. Then again, I fall in love easily... but is that such a bad thing when there's so much in this world, to love?
I found my own neighborhood deli that had 'the most awesome french toast mankind has ever tasted', my favorite Starbucks (that makes a latte just the way 'Inch' makes it), my shortcut to office (that saved me 2 dollars by cab), and a dozen chinese take-outs that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy! I saved up to watch 'The Phantom of the Opera' and came close to watching 'Beauty and the Beast'. I went to the Met and had the most awesome time ever! Yes, life in New York was good. I learnt that there is a part of America that lets dreams, culture and opinions thrive - where you could live, and learn. I learnt that life did not have to have a slow-motion quality for me to appreciate it...sometimes the beauty is in matching the pace. After all, it was the pace that allowed me to do so much more in the 4 weeks that I have been here!
And if you listen and watch closely, the pace becomes a rhythm!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Where have the cheesy numbers disappeared?

This post by the 'One (and only)' got me thinking about the days when movies did roaring business despite non-existent storylines, by piggy-backing on 'cheesy' numbers.
Remember any of the following? (Then you get what I mean by 'cheesy' numbers)

Tu cheez badi hai mast mast...(Mohra)
Sexy, sexy, sexy mujhe log bole, hi sexy, hullo sexy kyun bole?! (Kudrat)
Chhatri na khol barsaat mein...bheeg jaane de aaj is raat mein (Gopikishen)
Gutar-gutar, gutar-gutar. Chad gaya oopar re, atariya pe lotan kabootar re. (Dalal)
Choli ke peeche kya hai (Khalnayak)

Said a lot without directly saying anything at all...ignited a 'naughty' thought and left the rest to your imagination! Ok, now I must get on with the point this post is trying to make.
In the early nineties (I think after the unprecedented success of 'ek do teen' and the film it belonged to - Tezaab), almost every moviemaker wanted to hire a music director who could give his movie that 'one, seeti-maar number'.

So you had every music director worth his salt churning out numbers with 'double meaning lyrics' (I love that phrase). And most of these songs thrived on the controversy they created. In fact many a time, the lyrics of these songs made every parent bristle with indignation over the corruption of their little ones. And then there would be the mandatory public outcry (sometimes even a suspicious PIL in court) following which the music company would change / modify the lyrics (with great fanfare) to ostensibly mollify hurt public sentiments. Let me explain what I mean by modification...

'Sexy, sexy, sexy mujhe log bole' became 'Baby, baby, baby mujhe log bole'
'Dinon mein leti hai, raat ko leti hai' became 'Dinon mein kehti hai, raat ko kehti hai'

But curiosity had been piqued by then. School kids to other curious parents (who wanted to know what they should guard their kids against) to roadside Romeos (another favorite term) were listening to, singing tunelessly or looking out for the songs in question.
And that brings me to the genesis of this post. I loved these numbers. They were peppy and it was fun to see how they could rile people into a moral frenzy. But more importantly, I think they worked perfectly as a 'safe and healthy' outlet for an entire generation of kids, adolescents and adults brought up in an environment of denial. Singing these songs gave people their CTs.
It was the most an eve teaser would do (I am talking from a Hyderbadi's perspective here) at a bus stop or outside an icecream parlor. Maybe a more adventurous eve teaser, in a sudden need to differentiate himself amidst the sea of similar-intentioned chaps, would substitute 'choli' with 'Tshirt' (one actually felt sorry for the chap trying desperately to make that rhyme with the rest of the song).

Adolescents would have private dance parties (dancing for 15 minutes with exactly 3 friends, with the doors and windows shut when the parents had stepped out of the house to buy veggies or some such) and feel the thrill of rebellion while dancing to this 'aiyyo vulgar' song.
Kids would pool in money to buy the poster of the heroine in the movie (in that song) and take turns hiding it in their respective homes (till the next such song came up).

And the gals? Oh, we too hummed these songs (under our breath) or loudly sang them when we had PJ parties and felt a queer thrill (much like trying on bhaiyya's cologne, dad's cigarette).
Over a period of time, these songs got more and more explicit and worse - their visual depiction moved from the fully-clad suggestive movements to barely-clothed make-out sessions. So today, there are several songs with more than suggestive lyrics since entertainment itself has become so 'in-your-face' (even a song like 'leke phela pehla pyaar' has 'Jism-like' movements), and there's no secret thrill to be experienced any more. It's all there - out in the open, more explicit than ever.

There's no premium on restraint anymore!

While I can get down to the negative repercussions of this development, I think I will stick to bemoaning what I miss the most...the fun of cheesy numbers.
Remember? Even the great Amul (that only covered issues of national / controversial interest) decided to accord the 'tu cheez badi hai mast mast' number the honor of being spoofed on!
And the final proof of how much these numbers added to our life can be guaged from the instant connection that was established on campus when you spontaneously broke into a dance while
'Sarkailiyo khatiya jaada lage, jaade mein balma pyaara lage' was playing!
Oh, I miss the cheesy numbers...I am tired of the surfeit of sexplicit videos and chiselled foreign models belting out inane English numbers.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

One more stunning piece from the Nusrat Saab gharana! I am delirious with joy about discovering 'Jiya dhadak dhadak' from Kalyug (a new movie from the Mahesh Bhatt stable).
The song brings back memories of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the man of whom it was once said:
“(When I heard his music) I felt a rush of adrenaline in my chest like I was on the edge of a cliff, wondering when I would jump.”
When he passed away I remember our entire gang mourned his death as the death of the 'mainstream-ing' (if such a word exists) of Sufi music.
Sufi music which became a rage in the 90s and continues to enthrall to date, was given its irresistible charm by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (henceforth referred to as Nusrat Saab).
He made Sufi music more mainstream by simplifying the music and innovating with the format. More importantly, Qawwali, a form of devotional Sufi music, had hitherto been sung mostly in Urdu. It was Nusrat saab who popularised the Punjabi version of Qawwali (the Pakistani Punjabi) that made it easier for the Indian public to identify with Sufi music.
I remember the first time I encountered a Nusrat saab composition. It was this number called 'Jhoole jhoole lal'.
I loved so many things about that number - the rhytmic up-down quality, the improvised sargams, the unabashed high pitch singing, and a small quirk that I noticed him carry through many of his songs...a slight breathlessness that was brought about by someone of his girth doing an Alaap.
I loved the fact that unlike a lot of other forms of music, Nusrat Saab was not too fussed about 'perfection'. This showed in the rampant experiementation that he indulged in.
Apparently, when Nusrat Saab toured in foreign countries, he would watch television commercials in order to identify the melodies and chord progressions popular in that country. He would then try to pick similar sounding songs from his repertoire for his performances.
He would inject sargam improvisations into the qawwali to retain the original 'elusiveness' of qawwali music and also as a contrast to the rather simple lyrics.
What all this meant was that with his music, he moved ordinary, untrained (in music) people like me to that state Sufis call 'ishq', or the harmonic coexistence of earthly passion and divine love -- even though most listeners (like me) were unfamiliar with the Punjabi /Urdu lyrics.
Then, over the years, I became an avid fan of the Nusrat Saab school of music. I felt a curious blend of irritation (about the fact that his work was blatantly plagiarised by many Bollywood music directors) and pleasure (because that made his brand of music more popular with a broader listening populace).
The highlight was when he decided to enter Bollywood to counter the plagiarists with his first movie - Aur Pyar ho gaya.
Though the event itself delighted me, I was a tad disappointed with the result.
Nusrat Saab for some reason stayed away from the Sufi feel and instead focused on popular Bollwood melody. Possibly in those days, a Sufi number could only be a 'filler' song and not a song picturized on the hero. The hero had to have the conventional soft, smooth voice (even if it was Dara Singh in his hero days) and Sufi music did not qualify because it had an 'edgy', full-throated feel. The album had only three numbers that were reminiscent of the great Nusrat Saab - 'Meri Saanson mein', 'Hum se rahoge' and 'Zindagi Jhoom kar'.
Nevertheless, it was a memorable album that still occupies a place in my favorites collection despite a severe onslaught from a whole lot of other inspiring albums over the years.
Soon however, Bollywood became more open to the Nusrat Saab way of singing and even though to date we do not have too many Sufi songs being 'sung' by the hero (it is more a background song), we had more Sufi numbers being composed and topping charts.
And some of the best work that I have had the privilege to listen to was composed by Nusrat Saab.
“Sanware ... Tore Bin Jiya Jaaye Na” - a duet with Humaira Channa from Shekhar Kapoor’s ‘Bandit Queen’, is an example of his ability to provide just the right amount of background emotion to a controversial subject. The use of ravines and rugged country by Phoolan Devi, the Bandit Queen, to escape the law is impressively depicted by Nusrat Saab's use of high octaves and lingering cadences.
"Afreen, afreen" with one of my favorite artists (I use the term deliberately) - Javed Akhtar.
"Piya re", "Tere bin nahin lagda" (an all-time favorite), and many more.
When he passed away, it left me stunned. Who would carry the legacy forward? Would Sufi music fade into oblivion?
And then came two fine singers - one from the same gharana and in reality, the inheritor, and one outsider who worshipped Nusrat Saab from afar (an Ekalavya of sorts). The former is Rahat Fateh Ali Khan (his nephew), and the latter Kailash Kher.
The former is known for some stunning numbers of his own (the most popular being 'Laagi tumse mann ki lagan' from Paap) and the latter has the brilliant 'Allah ke bande' and 'Yunhi chala chal' to his credit.
The same improvisation, the same rustic feel, the same wholehearted, open-hearted singing.
And a few days ago I discovered a lovely number by the former - 'Jiya dhadak dhadak' from Kalyug. And apart from all the afore mentioned similarities, what almost made me poignant for just a minute was the slight loss of breath that is un-self consciously repeated throughout the song everytime the singer says 'Jiya dhadak dhadak'. That did not stop him from singing at that pitch...just like Nusrat Saab.
I guess some good things never do end, do they? And thank god for that!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Hyderabad Blues

After many, many years today, I had the opportunity to listen to 'tere dar par sanam' from 'Phir teri kahani yaad aayi'. For those of you who either mentally or verbally said 'what?!' to the title of the movie, a quick recap: Rahul 'Aashiqui' Roy, clingy Pooja Bhatt, Mahesh Bhatt directing an autobiographical venture (boy! the man sure has lived many lives, given the number of so-called autobiographical ventures that he's come up with) detailing his supposed relationship with neurotic Parveen Babi.

Nice movie, different storyline (neurotic, clingy, obssessive lovers were a rarity then; this is before SRK hit the screen with KKKiran...) and amazing music. Anu Malik at his very, very best. Sublime, yet haunting. The lyrics I think, had a lot to do with the feel of the movie. Kaifi Azmi (if I'm not mistaken). I know I bought the tape several times over the years. One for home, one for the car, one for the hostel, one for my bro so that he didn't whack mine, several as gifts for friends and 'special' friends.

The story is about a tormented, angst-ridden film director (that's probably the only similarity the story had with MB's life) and a slightly crazed (literally: she escapes from an asylum), terminally ill (mentally) girl. What i loved about the narrative was the absolute lack of background. We are not burdened with the girl's past (except fleeting references to her burning down the asylum and killing about a 1000, I kid you not! people). We are not burdened with the hero's past (and his present also seems to be irrelevant to the narrative and is therefore restricted to an occasional scene of him venting his frustration at the meaningless-ness of being).

In one of the take-offs on alternative healing / therapy (or what you will), the director goes to an ashram (some reference to popular icons of the time rushing off to the Osho ashram for emotional succour) to find meaning and meets the 'crazy' gal and falls in love with her 'quirkiness' (not realising she's actually crazy).

They share some wonderful times till her paranoia makes living with her very difficult indeed and he's forced to break-up with her. And then unable to get over it, makes a movie about it which is acclaimed as the 'first meaningful movie in a long time'.

True to MB movies, this too is riddled with symbology waiting to be discovered by the curious viewer. And there is a healthy dose of irony too. And this is amply demonstrated in the songs. Listen to 'Aaanewala pal' and I guarantee, even if you haven't watched the movie, you will become pensive for just a moment!

Then there's 'Badalon mein chup raha hai chaand kyun' a lovely love song. Not completely mushy, not completely naughty: just a touching mix of the two. Just like the emotion of 'discovering you are in love'. There is an innocence there that will never come back till you fall in love again. So sad.

And finally ofcourse, the ballad - 'dil mein sanam ki soorat, aankhon mein aashiqui de...mere khuda mujhe tu, ik aur zindagi de. kaise karoon mohabbat, do din ki zindagi mein? mere khuda mujhe tu, ik aur zindagi de...'.

Classy, and yet heartwrenchingly poignant.

All in all, a wonderful, wonderful classic. The music, not the movie. Movie would've been great to watch in those days when the concept was refreshingly new and we weren't so cynical in our attitude to movie viewing and movie scripts.

The music however, is something you can pick up and discover, even today. It will find a resonance today and even tomorrow.

Why have I called this piece Hyderabad Blues? Because this is a strong part of my growing up years in Hyderabad. And like mirchi bhajjis, masala chai, bun-maska, Tank bund road, Secret lake....it takes me back in time and brings on a mood known as 'Hyderabad Blues'.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Super Series? Super Dud?!

The most eagerly awaited clash of the decade they said! The only chance to beat the Aussies! Eleven of the best players in the world, in a format that just requires 'one' good day as opposed to testing test match conditions.

And the result? 2-0, big margin defeats, return to form of the players in a 'slump' -Damien Martyn, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist (strange that they call it a slump even when he keeps brilliantly and manages to average around 30). In short, the Aussies pulverize the Rest of the World.

And here I was, trying to juggle my schedule, driving my team half-crazy trying to work around the matches, getting labeled a social recluse because I had planned to spend Sunday (the day the final was to be played) at home, away from all distractions.

Wow...what happened? Why are Sehwag, Kallis and Lara not firing? Why are Murali and Akhtar returning with a wicket apiece?

I pondered this long and hard. The only reason I could come up with, was that the Rest of the World is really just that! Rest of the world...not the Best of the world!

No Tendulkar, no Inzy, no Jayasuriya. No Vaas, no Harmison, no Sami.

No, this was not a collection of the best players...this was a collection of the best of the rest, after the best had dropped out either due to injury or non-selection.

Simple question to anyone who cares to debate this. Pollock as captain? Even his own team does not have the gumption to play him consistently (leave alone make him captain).

It is so sad that despite having a really exciting idea, the execution has completely killed the possible magic of a lifetime. Like my uncles talk of the famous Rest of the World vs. Aussies match of their times - 1974 was it?. When Sobers scored that brilliant double century and Lilee took 12 wickets for less than a 100? I have heard so much about it that I feel like I was part of that era. Today, when I have a chance of being part of history again, snatching a story that I can tell my kids, faulty selection and bad planning play a wet blanket.

Was it wise to hold this so soon after the Ashes with Flintoff and Pietersen so tired that they perhaps don't really care? Was it wise to have a match practice lacking Akhtar play? Was it wise to not ask one of the nominees for the Player of the Year (Inzy) to play?

I don't know. All I know is that 'yeh dil maange more'. Maybe the tests will be a different affair. I'll keep my fingers crossed and this time round - no planning! I'll go to work and see if I can sneak into the conference room and watch the match in office :)

Boss bhi khush, team bhi khush, and I manage my own expectations too!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Of bathtubs and more...

What is it about bathtubs and Archimedes? Can't think of one without the dude and his damn crazy invention popping to mind!

Anyways, started thinking of bathtubs after seeing the Lux ad recently. SRK as usual was trying to sell something - only this time I wasn't sure I wanted to buy!

Who on earth thought of the concept man? SRK in a bathtub surrounded by ageing / passe (being extremely polite I am) heroines. Man! The things these ad guys come up with. I was horrfied coz knowing SRK and his penchant for pulling the heroine roughly towards himself (a la M&B style) i thought it was Madame Basanti's turn! Shudder, shudder! Wonder what she would have said though? Hat SRK! Tere Basanti ke izzat ka sawaal hai?!

Anyways, then appeared Ms. India...all smouldering looks and all. Completely out of turn coz SRK is always the one who smoulders...never the heroine. She's just supposed to simper. So i said to myself "Uh-oh, script going awry...".
And then, as if to assuage surprised me, came the simper-er (if such a word exists) of them all - Ms. Kapoor of course.

And she simpered away non-stop, but the camera moved to SRK who was trying desperately to work some magic with such a motley crew and was almost succeeding.

Anyways, my hat off to SRK! He always wins. He says 'Lux is the secret of my charm / beauty...whatever'. And one believes him!!!

Boy, can the man sell or what?!

Anyways, the horrid execution notwithstanding, i think this will definitely work for Lux.

The guys will lap up Lux believing that it will help them stammer out their wives name (to help their wives achieve delirious delight) and the women will believe that now they have the Badshah of romance all over them...well, that's what Lux is all about right?

Selling you dreams...and how!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

I guess it had to take something like a Saurav - Chappell spat to make me get off my backside and actually start blogging!
Stunning paradox of cowardice and guts!
Pardon the excessive use of the exclamation mark, but really! What else do you expect when the coach of the cricket team and the captain have a 'private' row that conveniently gets leaked to the press?
Now, I am no cricket pundit so i guess i don't know who was right and who was wrong, but the issue is not really about right and wrong (if it was, Dravid certainly would not have been where he is now...in the dumps!). No, the issue in my opinion, is really about the code of conduct (on and off the field) that is often unwritten but usually adhered to. That is what makes cricket the game it is - certainly no longer gentlemanly, but not 'juicy tabloid' like WWF either.
Should Chappell have asked / requested / demanded of Saurav that he step down? I don't know...probably yes!
Should Saurav have hemmed, hawed and then hinted to the press about Chappell's involvement in the whole issue? Certainly not. Yes, he had a right to be upset and certainly a right to speak out against what he percieved to be an unjust demand. But why not have the guts to do that openly, and more importantly, before the test?
Why wait to scratch and sniff out a ton (in the process run out a batsman going really strong), wait for the test to be convincingly won, and then, actually not even then, openly speak his heart out? If you want to use the media (for whatever purpose...sympathy, clout, sending a warning...), atleast have the gumption to do it forcefully, as befits the man in charge and perhaps even a man feeling wronged. This is not what a cricketer would do...this reeks of politics!
I always felt a warm glow for the 'Men in blue', irrespective of whether they won or lost (even shamefully so) because they seemed to represent something that we all want in our lives - a lack of game-playing, a straightforward approach to life.
So I appreciated Sehwag's open discomfort with the idea of playing alongside another attacking batsman like Yuvi. I understood Laxman's dismay about the fact that the best side in the world (though the Ashes may just have created a dent there) openly acknowleges him as a bigger threat than even Sachin, but his own captain and selectors still need more convincing about his ability to even merit a spot on the team. I understood Kumble's angst when despite being the most successful bowler for India, he still has to fight to keep his place in the side on an Away series.
I understood and even appreciated Saurav's own devil-may-care display of aggression and defiance after the now-historic Natwest final.
It was all ok because it was done openly and with nothing more than the stated motives - no games, no undercurrents, just up there for everyone to see, no guesses.
And all this sure had me fooled. I looked our men-in-blue and said to myself
"Here are a few good men"
Today, I question all that and more. Especially when I read that Kaif may have warmed the bench this Test despite being in absolutely brilliant form, because the Captain wanted to prove a point! Thankfully, the opposition was Zimbabwe, otherwise it may have been a case of 'cutting off your nose to spite your face'.
Saurav, you don't need to play games with you team, you need to play games with the minds of opposing teams. You are a much better man than all this. Let cricket be the 'Gentleman's game'. If I want intrigue, I will watch soaps in 'K' land.