Friday, August 28, 2009

Kaminey- The Critique

Kaminey has easily been the best reviewed movie of recent times among the Bollywood lot. Almost all the reviewers have been unanimous in their rating of the movie, and have been unabashed in their praises. Clearly, everyone seems to agree that Vishal Bharadwaj has a masterpiece on his hands. And Shahid Kapoor has arrived.

Amidst all the euphoria and with great expectations, I watched Kaminey here in Singapore. Incidentally, this is my first movie in a theatre here for over a year, thanks to our little son who threatens to embarrass us every time we attempt to parade him in public.

Since the plot and the characters have been described in lurid details in myriad reviews, I’ll save myself and the readers the trouble. Instead, I’ll play the critic.

The movie, undoubtedly, is in a genre of its own. Or if you include Hollywood, this would be the Quentin Tarantino genre. Slick, crisp, pacy, hard-hitting and very contemporary. The movie runs at such a frenetic pace that you don’t want to even sneak out for a toilet break, lest you miss the excitement. Shahid Kapoor as the lisping Charlie is a revelation. His “mein fuh ko fuh bolta hu” is seriously funny, because of the nonchalant dialogue delivery. The character has a certain consistency which very few other Bollywood characters have had. Including his twin brother Guddu, the stutterer.

Guddu, at times, seems to forget his stutter, and cannot convey his angst effectively enough to convince the audience why he detested girls “because they made fun of him”. And Priyanka Chopra’s Sweety, as sweet as she is, seems contrived in her attempt to pretence-stutter to gain Guddu’s love. The whole sub-plot seems inane. Especially Guddu ranting away on Sweety soon after their marriage when he discovers she never really had a stuttering problem.

Despite these minor shortcomings, the movie manages to keep the audience’s glued to their seats, thanks to the eclectic mix of characters that contribute to the plots. Tope Bhau as the gangster-aspiring-to-be-politician is an interesting take on the Raj Thackeray brand of “Marathi Manoos” politics. The Portuguese (or was he Latino?) drug lord and his African henchmen, at best, add to the melee in the end. The Bengali brothers provide some twisted humor, and also jump in to the fray along with everyone else, and their dads, in a “Priyadarshanesque” climax. Which I personally felt let down by.

All in all, a dark movie in the Tarantino mould, with in-your-face dialogues and dance-along music, aided by a sharp story-telling style and crisp editing. If only the director had resisted the temptation to make caricatures of the characters, and cleaned up the cluttered plot just a bit, Kaminey could have gone beyond being just a good film and qualified for a classic.

Alas, it doesn’t, and you come out of the theatre with an empty feeling.

My verdict- Kaminey is like a racy One Night Stand. Been there, done that, walked away, blanked it out.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Michael Jackson- The Legend

As I saw the news flash at the Breakfast Buffet on the 26th June about Michael Jackson's death, I went blank for a moment since this was truly shocking. But that momentary feeling of loss passed, and I continued with my hectic activities for the day. I was in Chennai for a series of meetings and seminars, and I had too much on my mind to keep me occupied. That, and also the fact that my memories of MJ had, over the years, been relegated to my subconscious mind.

Over the next couple of days, the media went berserk with tributes and dedications to Michael, bringing back the memories from the days when Michael Jackson was a God. Slowly, but surely, the memories that long been banished to the lesser used confines of my mind assumed center-stage. And then it all started coming back.

The King was Dead. Gone forever. Gone too soon.

As a child growing up in the 80’s, I couldn’t escape the Michael Jackson magic despite the fact that I spent most of my early life in a non-descript town with absolutely no exposure to any Western influence, including music.

The year was 1989. One of my friends had accidentally found a 100 rupee bill in the community garbage bin, and to avoid being found out, he was desperate to spend it all the same day. As his partner in crime, I got to accompany him in his spending spree. After treating ourselves to all the chocolates and cool drinks that we could have, we headed to the HMV House to spend the rest of the loot on buying English music cassettes. As we made into the shop and were approached by the store salesman, the only name that came to our minds was Michael Jackson. He was the only name that we knew, since we had heard the older kids in school talk about how “bad” his music was.

We bought “Bad”, and it felt good. After a couple of days of incessant replays of the tape, it felt great. Soon, we were hooked. MJ was God.

During the next 7 years, I must have heard “Thriller”, “Bad” and “Dangerous” at least a few thousand times each. And I truly believed Michael was incomparable. With the advent of Satellite TV in India, MTV made its way into our houses. The very first MTV transmission that I saw way back in December 1991 was, incidentally, the “Black or White” video. The video simply blew my mind. Subsequently, there were new videos from the "Dangerous" album released every 2 months, and I remember staying glued to the TV for hours before an impending new video release for bragging rights next day in school.

When MTV ran a Michael Jackson month in 1993 culminating in a Top 25 Michael Jackson hits, I remember opting out of the rare family get-together at a fine-dining restaurant, not wanting to miss the "Smooth Criminal" video which was aired only on very special occasions. Watching him do the vampire act in “Thriller” or the magician in “Remember the Time” video was truly “edge of the seat” television. The “Smooth Criminal” song and the “Moon Walker” short movie rank as the best ever music video ever made. The 45 degree lean, and the Moon Walk were sheer genius. Those were heady days if you were a MJ fan.

As the years passed, and as my exposure to Western music diversified, I discovered other genres of music which were more fashionable and eclectic, and therefore, Michael had gradually been banished to the archives, and no longer figured in my playlist. Michael Jackson, by then, had also started getting embroiled in the child-molestation scandals, which further alienated him from popular mainstream. His musical career, despite the occasional chartbusters like "Earth Song" and "Blood on the dance floor", had been on the wane, and he was nowhere near as popular as he was during the heydays in the 80s. Most of his albums after "Dangerous" were commercial failures, and the recurring child-molestation allegations exacerbated the situation for Michael further. The tabloids, as always, loved the controversy, and Michael's increasingly odd behavior further fuelled the controversy. Very soon, the media had successfully branded MJ an "oddity that you should protect your kids from".

Although the courts acquitted Michael of the charges of child molestation, Michael was always on trial in the media. And the constant pressure eventually caught up with Michael, and he started to crumble. His face too. The countless plastic surgeries, the nose that just wouldn’t stay stuck, the speculation about the real father of his kids, the failed marriages- everything just seemed to fall apart for Michael.

Unfortunately, the fans that swore undying loyalty, yours truly included, during his hey days simply stopped caring. Although most of us deep down believed that Michael was never guilty of all the child molestation crimes that he was accused of, we just didn’t care to come out in support. And the media, therefore, hounded Michael till it drove him to a drug overdose (unless investigations reveal otherwise) and a tragic death.

The fans, ironically, came out in support of Michael at his funeral in what was probably the biggest spectacle in recent times, bringing an entire city to a halt. The various home videos of Michael playing with Prince Jr, Paris and Blanket, that found their way to YouTube after his death, showed a side of Michael that would have significantly swayed public opinion on his side if only they had been released when he was alive.

Alas, that was not to be, and a beautiful talent just wasted away. The legend, however, lives on.

And I'm sure, in some other world, he is making music in his own special way.

The Pursuit of Happiness

All your life, you struggle and strive to achieve your goals. And you think that, and only that, is the key to happiness.

You set lofty targets for yourself, and spend your entire youth slogging your butt and selling your soul to get there. For happiness awaits you there, or so you believe.

You forget to stop and smell the roses. You don’t have time for a whiff of fresh air. A casual stroll in the evening is too much time wasted.

An evening with the folks is an opportunity cost.

If you are not living on the edge, you sincerely believe you are wasting too much space.

Relationships are transactional for you, and you do whatever is necessary to keep them alive. Barely.

And finally, you reach there. The happy place.

But alas, there is no happiness that you feel. You are contented. There is certainly relief. But no happiness.

And then you realize happiness does not await you at the destination. It was with you all along the journey. You realize that it is not about the pursuit of happiness, but it's about the happiness in the pursuit.

Every day you come home to a healthy family, you came home to happiness.

Every time you hold your little kid in your arms, you embrace happiness.

Every morning that you wake up to a little kid sitting on your chest with a wide smile revealing all of his 6 teeth, you wake up to happiness.

Every evening that you return home to see your loved ones waiting for you, you come home to happiness.

I know I have many goals to work for. I know some of those I will achieve. And some I won’t.

But I know I am happy. Truly, madly, deeply. Thank you. Amen.