Raavan - Ramayan gone right ya wrong

Bollywood does not fail to surprise me with its whims and also,its fancies. A Prakash Jha take on the Mahabharata saw the nation drooling on some Italian connection - Godfather and Sonia  Gandhi, wow I must say.Taken for granted,you are intelligent enough to get the drift.Now, Ram Gopal Varma has the last laugh at those who panned his version of Sholay, the national Aag is all over from Shobha De going on print record saying Mani has lost it to all and sundry in my city saying the Telugu-Tamil version is better because Vikram acted in it. Hello, then what was he doing in the Hindi one? A friend from Pune pings me to tell me that irate fans have reportedly asked for their tickets to be refunded. Methinks, those irate concerned should set up counselling helplines to deal with the trauma and damage this colossal epic has brought about. It is only a movie.

Mani Ratnam is every South Indian's (extended to all Indians by default) national pride and treasure. His movies have one burning social-political-economic agenda standing out (Bombay was Hindu-Muslim communal riots, Roja was Kashmir terrorism, Dil Se apparently ULFA terrorism, Guru, of course the quintessential rise of the Gujju Ambani, now Raavan with Lal Maati-Kobad Ghandy-Maoist? whatever,really?) BUT he steers clear of offering solutions on a universal scale ( I mean, why should he?), he entertains with sometimes good, at times decent-passable Rehman music and by far, the only-of-its-kind (so far, the rest don't get any mileage if it is not a Mani Ratnam film) breathtaking cinematography skills of Santosh Sivan.

I have watched the Hindi 'version' of Abhi-Ash-Vikram believing there is one.Do not be carried away by the punchline - 10 heads, 10 minds, A hundred voices, One man - it is just a distracting disclaimer. Why does Mani Ratnam make so many versions of the movie with different people? Will somebody ask him? Now, I am yet  to watch the Tamil-Telugu version just to get a wholesome picture of what he was trying to show the audience or maybe, I can give that a pass. An aside, the enthusiasm of a movie gets killed when I have to hear from very movie-informed South Indian friends - "Oh, the movie is a copy of a Malyalee film or a Telugu film or a Tamil film. You should watch this in..." and there is a cacophonic blah in their vernacular with an instant dismissal of whatever. 

I get it, Indians like variety but at what cost? I understand it as cloning, there is nothing unique about a movie anymore. If it was dubbed and subtitled, I would have still given him the benefit of doubt.But Indian film-makers are good students of inspiration (most times, read as copying). So, is there any original of Raavan? Raavanam? Villain of all names for Telugu audiences, jeez.

There is an unfair comparison (which could have been avoided) between the two Beeras. Mani Ratnam claims he has not had much hand in the Hindi creative production and depended mostly on his assistant. He feels 'better' about the Tamil-Telugu version because the creative reins were in his hands.

The amount of research done, so claimed is not reflected anywhere in the movie. Dropping names before the media like Kobad Ghandy (who is a regular burning issue every 2 months on NDTV's We, the People) is not cool when all you mention and try to show is some Lal Maati ( Red soil, get the Maoist drift) and a police crime. Yes, full and more points for the oh-so-breathtaking choice of locales and camera angles. The first scene where Beera (Abhishek) is seen towering in a dhoti and nothing else brought faint memories of The Dark Knight - the heady giddy feeling in the first scene.

The story is not very difficult to predict. The ending also, with such a giveaway of an epic title. Ragini (Ash) as the dance teacher-wife of Rayban-wearing, mooch-sporting S.P. of Lal Maati Dev( Vikram). The play on the names is quite palpable - Beera tangently Veer (the chivalrous one) and Dev maane Bhagwaan (obviously, gods make 'mistakes' in the name of rules and laws but Gods can never go wrong). Ragini is almost apsara-like claimed so many in that sylvan set-up. Well, she was not that bad but she is not as great as claimed with the baggage of marital fat showing up and I am not saying, fat is bad. She has a good sense of style and choice of clothes otherwise, in real life. The Sabyasachi cleavage hinting outfits are good, but not really focus-worthy. 

Govinda's Hanuman reprise was comic relief as much as Ravi Kissen's Mangal act. But Chichi's time is up - he should stop monkeying around anymore.Really, he flies in the movie. He disappears and reappears. Something is made fun of but I am not being able to point a finger where. Tch.

Priyamani who plays Beera's half sister is a spunky livewire. Spunky people always don't get everything in life, sigh! A police gangrape told with a staccato stare, the  next moment she is gone, caught in her creaking cot in the well. Police atrocities happen. I have not heard of men being raped by women police, however. The state of the police department in any place in India seems to be deplorable despite the collective faith conscious. The interrogation with the tribals in the forest is an utter joke.

Ajay Gehi (last memorable act was as Sunny's sidekick in Gadar) as the voice of conscience (Vibhishana) gets killed by the system(Dev). Obviously, this is Kaliyuga. Rookie cop played by  forgotten hero Nikhil Dwivedi (of My name is Anthony Gonsalves fame) as the stark naked mistake of the police department is not a new tale in the twist. A lot of our young veer-jawan desh ke liye mar mitne wale are of this ilk, the invisible tail in between their visible manhood. His kidnap and mundaan saaf by the Lal Maati Beera bhakts is well, cinematic poetic justice for the suicide in the well.That he became a pschological shock victim is well, not a sympathy trip.What a punishment - buried till the chest in the ground and pilloried.Oh, stripped as well. If that could prevent crimes against women, if only.

The guerilla tactics used in the movie are the lousiest I have ever seen in these days of larger than life make believe. Almost, lost in the cattle class with multani mitti face-packs everywhere, on everyone. There is a tropical feel everywhere - the rains, the slippery mud, the overwhelming waterfalls, hamlets, pots and pans.

Everything is fair in love and war,so they say. Beera is smitten and bewitched by  Ragini, comparisons almost epic and tragic, like Helen of  Troy. There are moments of dignity in the questioned Robin Hood-Raavan yarn when Ragini's faith breaks down before Lord Vishnu's giant statue and she says she is not that strong and brave, and that she is only putting up a front. This is the same woman who scorned Beera in the beginning and refuses to allow anyone to take her life so easily, she just dashes off the cliff with that pride intact of a human being in control of her fate and actions. The distressing wife overtakes her in the  last few reels of the movie after the controversial bridge-burning duel where Beera lets go of everything. She pleads with Beera to know if Dev is alive and ok, how tepid!

The brooding Beera has two annoying refrains - " Chik chik chik chik..." and "Bak Bak Bak Bak.." to display irritation and instill fear. Frankly speaking, he lost whatever little gravity he had, thanks to those two lovely refrains. He becomes the good rogue with a golden heart, who loses his heart and life for the lovely ice maiden of a Sita-prototype.

Treta yuga Sita was banished and  she gave up her life to prove her chastity. Our Kaliyuga Sita stops the train, refuses to undergo the fire-test, err, I mean the blood test not because she is scared but she wants to give sense and sensibility a chance. There begins the Beera trail. As mutual acceptance begins to bloom, the wily and brute Dev corners the hunter. With a cry for justice asking posterity who the real Raavan is, Beera dies a heroic death. For Dev, work is worship. His work is to capture Beera, dead or alive. In this war, everything is fair. He forsakes his wife's love too in a tragic taken-for-granted way. This is the same man who is moved to tears when he visits the abandoned hide-out where his wife was held hostage. Vikram is business-like, cold and matter-of-fact. An ordinary husband, and not the god (Dev) that an Indian wife prays and fasts for on sacred Mondays. 

The only real menacing fear in the movie came from Mangal. He had the choicest of lines from nailing home the truth - people fight for food, and one should not insult food to real guffawing rhymes like - Kranti ko shanti do. From the days of playing Lord Krishna on our telly to gyrating as the Big Boss of Bhojpuri Films and telly-hosting, this man has come a long way. Simple and intense, he is a quiet show stealer. With that shaving knife and Nikhil Dwivedi tied to a chair, Mangal's ritualistic jungle dance was chilling, almost laced with cannibalistic mania when he  contemplates which body organ to cut off first - the nose? or gouge the eyes? slit the throat? or better still, chop off the ears? Of course, the result is symbolic - stripped of dignity, tit for tat with no hair and clothes.

Mani Ratnam makes films.He made this one too.Period.


Romancing the rain, 
I told myself,
Time is my ally, 
The world is my best friend.

I love without a care
I live without fear.
My dream is safe,
I sleep in peace.


High Five for Rajneeti

I feel so good doing a movie review after a long time, even  Slumdog for all its Rehman-Resul Oscar bandbaja is not worth reviewing. I restrained the movie buff in me to watch a Housefull of Kites and Badmaash Company for the heck of it. 

Rajneeti lived up to its hype. Katrina’s sunscreen ad interspersed with her Sonia Gandhi-like scenes and dialogues kept the hype going. After their Ajab-Ghazab on-screen chemistry, the PR people did their homework well in working on the Ranbir-Katrina USP. 

Rajneeti has that perfect story, a taut narrative, amazing cinematic vision, cast and ingredients right from its promos with Manoj Bajpai (who?) complaining of missing his share of limelight. Rajneeti is not dynastic politics. It is a tweaked version of the epic Mahabharata with a little bit of zing from Mario Puzo’s Godfather, femme fatales, assassinations and murders. And yes, not to forget the names- shadowing their epic counterparts.

That power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, I never saw it come alive on screen so vividly in sleepy Madhya Pradesh. Even country cousin amchi Sarkar and its sequel Sarkar Raj pale into ordinariness. The starry cast wowed me beyond their chocolate looks and art house heavy weighted-ness.

Prakash Jha's movies have always been grim, stark and real, set in the heartland; there is a socio-political veneer in the narrative. The canvas of this movie is bigger, and a little larger than life and hard to believe at times. A regular Prakash Jha fan may possibly be disappointed at the 'kitsch' that one may think, it is.

The title prepares you for a lot of things, pleasant and ugly. Politics is deeply and downright Machiavellian. Only the most practical people survive. There is no right or wrong, no fair or unfair. 

Darshan Zariwala as an aging high command reminded me of late Congress head, Sitaram Kesri. Naseruddin Shah’s disappearing act more than the guest appearance as a crusading comrade reminded me of a Leftist bachelor academician who suddenly discovers his sexuality with  his young student-follower(Bharati). Ajay Devgn(Suraj Kumar) is the result of that tense night of passion. A modern day Kunti forsakes her Karna. Suraj Kumar grows up with his aggression misplaced beyond the kabaddi field in his biological mother‘s driver‘s house- he becomes the Dalit voice. He is the valorized sub-altern.

Kunti (Bharati), aided by her brother Brij Gopal (Nana Patekar) retires into domesticity as a political pawn. Time flies. Two sons - politics natural, youth mass leader Prithvi (Arjun Rampal) is our hot-headed but strategic modern day Yudhisthira and research scholar yum Americano-Indian Samar (Ranbir) springs a surprise as a suave and strategizing Arjuna. Manoj Bajpai (Virender) is their jealous but wronged elder cousin and the parallel Duryodhana. Tayaji in ICU is the perfect conniving Dhritarashtra. Nana’s mamaji act veered between Shakuni without the “nice and negative” elements and more of Lord Krishna. Boy, all these guys look so good in khadi. The dialogues are not historical but the message, yes. In democratic India, a lot of things happen in politics.

There is dignity in Manoj-Ajay’s friendship that evolved from a mutually satisfying power struggle. The bonhomie of Arjun-Ranbir is touching, one brother out to protect the other. There are some tender moments too, when Prithvi tells his wife that he also loves her a lot but does not know how to express it or the airport scene when Pratap wants his son to hug him, ominous it may be. The Kunti-Karna showdown was tepid. But Karna doing his elder brother bit of not taking Arjuna’s life was a tough moment. But for an Arjuna to go down the annals of history as a great warrior, there is deceit when he shoots an unarmed Karna who dies in dignified duty. Nana towered in the background.

Katrina Gandhi is what a few young 18-year olds in the theater thought she was. Of course, India remembers Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. By far, her best performance after New York. Her wild hair and that bindi are distractions. 

The Irish girlfriend with a painful memory and the assassinations are markers. Kiran Karmarkar’s nasty SP act was bludgeoned to perfection. Shruti Seth as Sitapur ki ticket hungry political wannabe in cotton saris also is a murky truth of so many women who want easy access to power. Babulal’s gay act was an unnecessary distraction, I thought. Ram Charit Kumar (his name says it all) as the family driver kept the maryada of values intact - Continue doing one’s duty. The Censor Board, given their track record have displayed some matured conduct. Don’t get titillated.

Sense of closure is required for every action. The farewell confession of Ranbir is deeply moving. Time and circumstance make you do funny things. In politics, there is no Devil and God. There are no winners and losers, only survivors. There is no room for grief.

A space called home

Sometimes, small things really matter. I am a spartan in spirit and a pseudo-regal in taste. Being smart and sophisticated is not an easy art. You learn it the hard way through bloopers or by chance or initiation.Going back to old times when I came to Hyd with one big air bag.

I have somehow been never house-lucky in Hyd. I have had one or the other issues,  needless to say I have to approve/affirm my den. Since Dec'06, I have had two stints at the PG - interesting places. A friendly lecturer from my univ informs me from her experience and knowledge of Hyd that Ameerpet is 'safe' for girls. Yes, four of us found refuge in a certain hostel which was a breeding pit of software engineering students. Figured out after a year, that Ameerpet Univ is actually a phenomenal truth!

PG round 2 happened in Madhapur because I was on a deputation-training. I tell you these Telugu hostel owners are great money spinners. 2 of us managed to call the kitchen home for 2 months. The deposit drama and threat is utter sham. They could not even find a remedy for a viral flu, I had to shell out 10 grand spending a weekend in money-stripping Image Hospitals, what image I have of Telugu-land!

Never strike friendship with hostel mates and decide to move out to together to an independent or separate accommodation. I was ditched by a Malllu girl and a borderline Tamil-Mallu girl, of course after we finalised a house and I (silly me) offered to pay the advance and rent, since the other two were broke (you know, the month-ending excuse).The Mallu would live provided another  Mallu girl also stayed and the Tamill-Mallu girl would stay provided the 1st Mallu girl made up her mind. So much for regional collective responsibility. Those girls, I hope I am able to forgive them for their care-a-damn smallness.No offence.

Round 3  of accommodation was Lingampalli, close to Hyderabad Central University - the jinxed house actually, where I was ditched and all.I barely lasted 19 days in that house.What goes around comes around.Some Mallu and Tamil girls from office badly needed accommodation, they moved within a day's notice.

Round 4 of accommodation was more of a makeshift-anywhere-in-the-city but away from ditchers, Jubilee Hills..where getting an auto to and fro was annoying. All the richie-rich Reddys and filmstars live here and nobody takes an auto. The poor basti people took buses or walked. If you cant drive, to hell. This house was beautiful- nice woodwork, nicer (read bigger) rent, civil mates and nice maid. 8 months just passed like that. I hardly met tolerable neighbours. Buying weekend rations and vegetables in the rythu market was another activity. Again, space and difference set in. We moved on.We are barely civil anymore.

Classifieds work the best, again a matter of luck and timing. You get ok-dokey roomies-flatmates, houses and deals. You also have headless men making inquiries about the availability of the house and all.

Decided to go solo. Options were bad, and options just got worse. So-called concerned folks and people also said the same.There are no studio apartments.WTH

Round 5  was Banjara Hills, homely space but I never liked the quack of the doctor who was also our owner. A good 9 months passed with pets and parties. I learnt to differentiate between the sex and the city kinds, the predators and the nonsense in my environment.I had to de-tox everything around me. I decided to move closer to the workplace and also, someplace. 

Man proposes, God disposes.Crossroads.Choices.Classifieds. 

Round 6 was Kondapur, pretty much on the highway with a dusty breeze in the daytime. Wanted a new beginning to everything. Needed space away from the familiar mundane crowd. I lasted 3 months there. Jackie, the gorgeous female labrador still comes in my dreams, she has delivered a lovely litter. The other two inmates quit work in succession and also, decided to leave Hyd for good. I had just unpacked when this news bombed me. I was not keen on taking over. So, the TO-LET went up.Another lesson, a 21-year old and somebody waiting to be 30 have different agendas in life.

It was a nightmarish time. I no longer have just one air bag. It was a truckload of things. I sold a lot of things, gave away a lot of things. The rest, I packed again and moved to a couple of friends'. I am indebted, being homeless.

Round 7, found a basement residential flat in Erramanzil. I was not wow but I needed something closer to work.I hated moving in and moving out. It was not fair on my other roomie. But the daylight theft got me worked up.I dont ever remember cooking in that house, I also remember turning a year older in that house. Forgettable but 2 months.

Round 8 happens to be my current transit camp since last August. It's become my sanctuary. From a difficult Page-3 wannabe breaking my ear-rings to agony bonhomie with my other two flatmates. We meet when F.R.I.E.N.D.S. come on TV.

I swear, I will leave Hyd if I have to move out of this house. I am not as tenacious as a cat and dont want to be a survivor. Reminds me-- when I first came to Hyd, I moved out of the company guest house after the two-week complimentary put-up. I did that on 1st Jan. Someone said, get ready..you are going to change houses often, whatever you do on New Year's..you keep doing that all the time.

I have learnt to take care of rent and expenses. I have never ever slept alone in an empty house full of cartons and boxes, I have done that too. I have found my space to cry and laugh, not be answerable to anyone, including parents. Money cant buy that, even in your own house.

I dont think I want to buy a house in Hyd (whenever I can) or own a house. I'd rather go to the countryside, write during the day and learn bee-keeping (which I will someday) and pay my bills. The romance with a city finishes once the worst hits you. 

"Men may come and men may go
But I go on forever."