Tuesday, May 02, 2006

DIARY OF AN EPICUREAN WEEKEND MANIAC... Anyone for 'Requiem For A Dream', 'Catch Me If You Can', and 'Along Came Polly'?

After a four-year stint with the 6-day week, I am now a self-righteous member of that delightful club where smug folks have Saturdays and Sundays stretching like long and guilty afternoons.
I wondered at you guys, all of you who started out gaily from Friday evening itself, doing what I longed to do -- nothing special. I peeped into your lives, and scenes like the following made me green with lust and envy:

Friday night
After hard week at work, exit like decorated soldier. Greasy burgers from lonely diner. One ThumsUp for the road home. A couple of long phone catch-ups with friends in various cities. In bed, you take up Zadie Smith, without any concern for the morrow.

Late morning is too early. But suddenly, hell breaks loose. Plans for matinee. Gangster? Aaargh! Are you sure? Early matinee? 2pm? Lunch? The last happens hungrily on way to theatre. Seedy dosa-den suffices. Current tickets available.

On way back, buy strange looking seasonal Kaju fruit. Smells of feni, reminds of Goa. You think siesta. There’s still strong daylight. Back home, it’s not just sleep. It’s something else, unearthly. It creeps over you, spreads like a mist. You nap. Wake up in time to avoid terrible numb headache that comes with longer naps. Perfect so far.

You’re too rested, you wanna spice things up. Go out, and down alu-paapri, phuchka, samosa-chaat. Is it divine intervention that your DVD rental is neighbour to the chaatwaala? Can’t be bothered with stray thoughts, you choose an eclectic double: Catch Me If You Can (*) and Desire Under the Elms (**).

Groceries? Dinner? Forget former. The local Chinese takeaway is the best you’ve tasted. No, they don’t make Indian Chinese. So can feel less guilty. Singaporean dinner, authentically sweet and different. Goes well with Catch Me…

Post-prandial walk – balcony version. City’s summer air is balmy late at night, you decide you’re lucky. Bout of bed-blogging. Laptop grows heavier on your person… Draft post. Doze off…


That’s it. No more eating out. Original multi-tasker, you resolve to cook. Chicken. Onion-elaichi rice. Easy way out.

Chicken do-piaaza. Free-for-all. No recipe, nor precedent. Caramelise sugar for dash and colour. Before you know it, oil is too hot and masala burnt. Salvage with industry, for a black but smashing dish that you could die for. Flavoured ghee-ed rice looks bland beside it. Lunch is good. Appreciated. And the ice-cream man timeth it perfectly.

Weekend crossword. Alternately prone and supine on cold marble of living room. Perfect time and setting for taalshash (Bengali for tropical palm-tree fruit kernel, know neither English nor Hindi for it, thaati ningu in Kannada). Cool dripping moments, taalshash water running down hands.

Evening. Suddenly remember Desire Under The Elms. Rental guy to soon collect it. Burn film on hard disk. Doorbell. Rental always sends bagful of temptations. This time, you cannot resist Requiem For A Dream (***).

Dinner? Chicken-rice leftover? Naaaah, too heavy for encore. Decide to toss up light penne, but penne stock not enough. So call old faithful for very light Japanese noodle. Requiem… too serious for noodle, so make clean sweep of the Japanese as soon as it arrives. Back to the film, then to Zadie Smith till 3 am, then call it a day.

Monday (May Day)
You suddenly remember there’s a week coming up. Decide to cook, in readiness for next two days. Order hot idlis for breakfast, and begin.

Begun shorshe (brinjal in mustard). Dimer dalna (egg curry). Masoor daal. Alu sheddo makha (mashed potato). Why does your shorshe always end up a bit bitter? But smells good, and tastes snazzy. By the time the maid strolls in, day’s labour neatly lined up on table, cooling off, awaiting demolition.

You remember there’s a TV in the house, and check if it still works. HBO. Another old faithful. Along Came Polly (****) on, serves till lunchtime. Panic for vanishing weekend. Want to top it off with repeat of Saturday’s siesta. Do exactly that.

Evening spent catching up weekend newspapers and magazines. Trace Kaavya’s downfall. Ponder on joining blogwagon on the subject, decide it’s too full. You’d read Opal Mehta in March, and now quite indignant. Hungry. Have Sunday’s chicken. Back to Kaavya. Picture yourself getting similar handsome advance for novel, but being wiser by not copying verbatim. Think of books you've “internalized” so far, lose count. Pick up never-ending Zadie Smith, till she falls flat on face zzzzzzzzzzzzzz....

It’s the lighter Steven Spielberg. And it’s wonderful entertainment. For once, Leonardo DiCaprio (Frank Abagnale Jr) looks the part, and fits easily into the whiz-kid-conman persona (mistrusted him in The Aviator and Gangs of New York). Brilliant depiction of deadpan FBI agent Carl Hanratty (bank fraud dept) by Tom Hanks, who makes it his mission to catch the conman and put an end to his forged cheques.
Great true story, with interesting twists, elaborate brainwaves, the right amount of compassion (the latter even from the FBI man).
Grey character of Frank Sr played well by Christopher Walken.

Really sorry to disappoint. I was too greedy for Requiem..., and ignored Desire... for the timebeing. The guy was Anthony Perkins, none other than your friendly neighbourhood Norman Bates. And it turned me off imagining beady-eyed Perkins in a fling of passion with none other than Sophia Loren herself, his step-mom in the movie. Poor guy seemed to have a mother jinx in his roles. Anyway, Desire... rests peacefully in my hard disk for this weekend.

This is not how one should write about Requiem… And you might not be very patient for it if you don’t like what some people term “European school of film-making” or "the arty kind".
But forget the school, and forget it if you were told that Requiem… was just another film on junkies and graphic sniffings. It's about obsessions and illusions and dreams, and losing them all. How drugs, weight-loss, television, and even hope, can bring us all to despair.
Ellen Burstyn hits hard with Sarah Goldfarb, the widow who is neither senile nor silly, but knows that old age and loneliness have made her too weak to resist commonplace glories and easy respite. Director Darren Aronofsky carefully constructs Mrs Goldfarb’s TV addiction as big and ugly as the drugs her son Harry (Jared Leto) takes, to the extent of how it dumbs her down and destroys her. Burstyn's face -- and the moment when she tells Harry that she needs to have those pills in order to pull down in order to fit into the red dress in order to be on TV in order to have some break from this loneliness -- is haunting. You don't need to be a TV/drug junkie to empathise. We all have had our moments alone and thoughts of old age, some dreams lost on the way, and a red dress or two that we might never fit into anymore.
If you’ve read the book (I haven't), there’s an interesting surprise for you. One of the prison/rehab centre guards is played by Hubert Selby Jr (the author) himself. Apart from the cameo, he’s also written script together with Aronofsky.
Do see this one. Burstyn is worth it. Any good DVD rental should have it.

**** Along Came Polly (2004)

Hee, hee, hee. Funnyman Ben Stiller never fails to deliver. One wonders how he is in life.
Reuben Feffer (Stiller) hooks up with middle-school mate Polly (Jennifer Aniston). Doesn’t tell her that wife Lisa (Debra Messing) left him for a scuba-diving instructor during their honeymoon. Good-natured Polly’s ok with it even after she comes to know. But they’re the so-called Mars-Venus types. He’s a risk analyst (“analysist”, as Polly stammers), professionally and otherwise too. He plans everything, doesn’t like “dirty-dancing”, stands by commitments, is a conventional-food guy, etc. She’s impulsive, loves to move, currently a waitress writing a children’s book, heavenly at salsa, adores spicy food that she eats with her hands, etc.
Fun, crazy antics, good acting, mush, ok, HBO kinda watch.
Messing as the ex-wife looks very different from the hapless Grace we know. She looks almost poised here. Any of you a Will and Grace fan?
But the best part is the end, where the scuba-diving instructor's accent had me ROTFWL (I tried it for half a day, till people started taking the case seriously)
Oh, and Reuben’s best buddy Sandy is played by Philip Seymour “Capote” Hoffman. Hard to link him with that dark character, if you've seen Capote. In fact, he seems to be everywhere, which includes MI 3.

Gangster, and an old song

This is not a review. And rest assured, this doesn’t reveal a thing.

Please do not see Gangster, if you’re expecting the following:
A Coppola, or even a Tarantino
A firework performance by Shiney Ahuja
Kangana not to have a funny nasal accent
A film you’ll remember all your life

Forget it. Do see this Hollywood-style time-pass masala flick, and here’s why:
For a consistent urbane foreign setting very rare in Hindi films
For tidy editing, neatly packed flashback / to-and-fro, and surprises well kept
For beautiful orange-red-yellow fall scenery, and some haunting picturisation
For a director’s interactive trick on his audience: Will Emraan Hashmi kiss or won’t he?
For the paucity of characters
(Girls) For Shiney, who looks irresistibly Italian when he sports a beret
(Guys) For latest hot-bod Kangana (remember, there’s Hashmi too), though she’s too wriggly and spindly for my taste. And can't act

Also, on a personal note:
When they started Bheegi bheegi si hai raatein / Bheegi bheegi yaadein / Bheegi bheegi baatein / Bheegi bheegi ankho mein kaisi nami hai… I couldn’t stop feeling the last few words myself. I have nothing against the Hindi version, which is excellently picturised, and the movie does it justice. But then the Dolby sat up and the theatre shook with Na jaane koi / Kaisi hai yeh zindegaani / Zindegaani / Humari andhoori kahani… Before I knew it, I was singing too. Bhebe dekhechho ki? Tara-rao koto alokborsho durey... The guy next to me stopped singing, turned, stared, and thought I was daft to be so confidently mondegreening throughout the whole chorus.

After my initial indignation when I heard the Hindi song in February, I came to know from this guy that they took it legally. But this is just to say that I love the colloquial angst of the beloved original.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The trailer looks good

" It is so powerful that men have died protecting it
And there are those who would kill to expose it
It is a message that has been hidden for centuries
Right before our eyes
What if the world’s greatest works of art have the secret that could change the course of mankind… forever?
This summer… No Matter What You Have Read… No Matter What You Believe…

The Journey Has Just Begun "

If the book is anything to go by, it will be one helluva bestseller of a film.
If the trailer is anything to go by, it could be a very well-made one at that.

The typical Hollywood trailer baritone takes you zooming into fissures and cracks and gorges that come up rushing to meet you. You leave behind the sand-coloured surface, you descend, you meander through a winding maze that goes deeper and deeper. Till it is dark, and you can make out lighted messages scratched and burnt into the walls.

A swooshing zoom-out, and you are shot out of the crevice, out of the surface and into the air. You go higher and higher, till the cracks below become a blur and the surface begins to show as a whole… It is a canvas, and it is the face of Mona Lisa.

You are held for a moment by that serene gaze, till it turns and breaks into smithereens...


Tom Hanks
Audrey Tautou
Ian McKellen
Alfred Molina
and Jean Reno

in a Ron Howard film

MAY 19, 2006

You can check out IMDB. And the India release is on the same day.
photo: yahoo

Friday, April 14, 2006

Tag, and Shubho Nobo Borsho to all

I guess I’m not very good at being tagged. Sue, sorry for being so late. Well this is my first tag, and in some ways my first directly personal post. So, whether you like it or not, here goes, in random order…

Ten (10) things I miss the most
1. My city
The rains and evening squalls (though the kaal-boishakhi is a rarity now). British Council Library. Phuchkas, rolls, biriyani, Chinese. Sweet shops. The Gariahat-Rashbehari walk. Bargain banters with hawkers. Heated opinions I heard in buses (especially BBD Bag-bound mini-buses) between people who’d just met and would soon part ways

2. Both my grandparents’ houses
One with the prayer room and the glass jars of batashas, the other with sombre shelves filled with lines of musty books waiting to be picked. And the grand old ladies themselves, with their afternoon stories, at times so child-like and mischievous that I quite looked down my nose on them

3. Home
And the stairs and my room and my bathroom and my bed and my desk and my pillows and the switches on the walls and the marks on the wood where the crudely glued posters of my teenage have been taken down

4. Parents
Even though the calls contribute a major chunk to BSNL’s revenue. I miss the weekday evenings and maths with Ma. My father coming home after work and pretending there’s no goody for me

5. Friends
And a couple of aunts and cousins too. All my friends, all of them from school and college and varsity and on the way. Mostly a couple of them who left my life like loose-ends, unexplained

6. The free days
Of not having to be ‘correct’ while talking. Of not having to say much, or saying too much but not having to worry. Of knowing that you could say what you liked and a friend would know what not to heed

7. Reading like a mad hare
Finishing books by the dozen, with my mother intermittently shrieking from the bottom of the stairs, reminding me about the state of my eyes and their impending loss of vision

8. Afternoons, acres and acres
You could sleep and not worry about getting things done, not worry about adding value to weekends. I miss the time when 24 hours seemed reasonable

9. A certain couple of unforgettable “someones” from my city
Who cannot be categorised. Neither friend, nor relative, not teacher, not neighbour. They came and never left, but probably didn’t notice me much

10. And last, and most… My School
Not that I miss it at every turn (light years since I left), but it keeps coming back to me.

The last was becoming inordinately long, so I’ve decided on a separate post for it. And since a tag is incomplete and unfair :-) if you don’t pass it on, I hereby throw the posy to JAP, Eve, Prerona, Ekta, Kusum, Ghetu, Roshomon, Raconteur.

And before I forget, Shubho Nobo Borsho to all (non-Bongs, it’s the Bengali New Year on 15th April). Hoping to know you better this year. And special mention for my kind O3 friends :-)

Friday, March 31, 2006

Oscar Feast V – Walk The Line

A gifted singer is about to go waste. His red-neck farmer father has no notion of his talent. His wife wants him to take up that job her Dad has been offering. His sales calls are met with doors shut rudely in his face.

But he makes it. Only to lose it all.

There is the price that fame makes him pay, there is the fast life of the tour, there is the wife tucked away feeling left out, there are drugs to be done and a border to be crossed to get that easy bagful.
But as you and I know, there’s also a friend in this decadent jungle. She is strong and loving, she has a shoulder for his tired and abused head, she is ready to shun the glory, she is content to live in his “big fat shadow”, and she plucks him out of the degenerate mess.

Does it sound all too familiar?

It is, but Walk The Line is as open and fresh and honest as Reese Witherspoon’s face. Though it’s actually the story of Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) and his rise and fall and rise, the film devotes itself in part (and more) to June Carter (Witherspoon), Cash’s tourmate and friend. June is one of the daughters of the popular and musical Carter family.

More than director James Mangold’s intentions, my guess is that June becomes as important as Johnny in the film because of Witherspoon’s powerful portrayal of a young, kind and well-mannered stage-seasoned professional. And we like it that she shows reluctance in getting involved with a married man, and also because Cash' s wife has been endowed with enough negativity. I do tend to get carried away when I appreciate a film and its actors, but I’ve seen Capote too, and I absolutely fail to see why Phoenix didn’t get the Oscar. Witherspoon deserved hers. (When they announced her name, I thought of Legally Blonde and kept “Oh no-ing”; Jabberwock cautioned me; I stand corrected; though, on second thoughts, Legally and WTL together emphasise Witherspoon’s repertoire). Hats-off to Phoenix and Witherspoon for doing their own vocals in the film (yes, I know, it's hard to believe, though the film's credit clearly mentions the fact). Professional singers, work harder, these guys look good to grab a neat chunk of your pie.

The WTL action opens in 1968 when Cash is at Folsom prison, California, to make his famous live recording. The flashback starts in 1944, with his life as a kid at his Dad’s farm in Arkansas (the bond between the two brothers is touching).

If you are the rockabilly and country type, you’ll enjoy WTL as a musical almost. The deep bass (“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash”) reverberates throughout. The onstage chemistry between Phoenix and Witherspoon is remarkable. You might want to see the film again for the superb duets:

· "Time’s a Wastin"
· "It Ain’t Me Babe" (interesting playful variant from Bob Dylan’s)
· "Jackson"

…as well as the singles, including the pensive “I Walk The Line”.

There’s a shot or two of the King himself, and Roy Orbison (frankly, I know only "Pretty Woman"), and a wonderful depiction of Jerry Lee Lewis, right down to his so-called piano-pounding. There’s also Sam Phillips, the Sun Records man who in the 50s was responsible for exposing all the above-mentioned talents, namely the country-rock mixture that gave way to rockabilly (I’m no authority, so enlighten me if you can).

I would disagree vehemently with those who’ve termed WTL a musical.
· It doesn’t live only for its music
· I didn’t wait for the next song (though I loved it)
· It is too much the “drama” genre to be a musical (the tension between Johnny and his Dad is evidence enough)

Once more, here's to Phoenix and Witherspoon singing...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Oscar Feast IV - Good Night, And Good Luck (with digressions and quiz)

No, I’m not going to rave about George Clooney.
Rather, I am delighted to tell those of you who haven’t yet seen Good Night, and Good Luck that if you are a Humphrey Bogart fan, you should see this. I would die before Casablanca is remade, but if it absolutely must be, then let me die knowing that they’ve chosen David Strathairn as the new Rick.

But seriously… Maybe Strathairn won't be able to do full justice to Rick Blaine with regard to the latter's romantic aspect, but do see him. Roger Ebert describes him as a stealth actor.
Go to end of post for easiest visual quiz on which is HB and which is DS.

Forget sepia, director George Clooney goes out and out with the old faithful black & white. GNGL is a stylish throwback on newsroom drama, a newsman's duty, and that eternal debate between media Editorial and media Owner.

The issue is Joseph R McCarthy, the US Republican Senator who in the 1950s unleashed his own brand of Reign of Terror against state department officials he insisted were Communist infiltrators. As with any large-scale obsessive initiative, McCarthyism gained a certain amount of popularity, which waned after the Senate itself shrugged off his tactics.

Back in the CBS news show "Good Night, and Good Luck", senior star journalist Edward R Murrow (Strathairn) pounces on a loophole when an East European is expelled without reason from the Army. In a daring media crusade against McCarthy’s tactics, he has the support of his producer Fred Friendly (Clooney himself) and a host of talented reporters who do his snooping around for him. There is the inevitable pressure from the CBS powers-that-be, more so since "GNGL" is a sponsored primetime programme (later, despite the tension, Murrow has full freedom). There is the Army to deal with this time, and of course McCarthy himself, who also later agrees to answer Murrow’s questions on the show.

Kudos to Clooney for taking on such a politically delicate topic, in a country where Communism is forever a hot potato, dethroned only for the time being by Terrorism. (It is another matter that most Americans view both as not too dissimilar and equally threatening).

Coming back to GNGL, it is interesting to take note (with around 5 English news channels doing the rounds in the Indian cable circuit) of the unsmiling Murrow – never out to please, be it employer, producer, audience, or subject.

Strathairn does amazing things with a cigarette… OK, so it’s heinous to show a star anchor with smoking fingers, but he does make the stick look like an essential style accessory. And true to reporters and newsdesks worldwide, the CBS stuff is seen constantly lighting up, deadline or no-deadline.

If a Clooney fan, you might find him disturbing. I mean I kept expecting more screentime from him, but in time realised that the put-on weight and comparative insignificance was of course deliberate and he was the director this time. If you've seen Citizen Kane, you'll know Clooney's seen it too. Maybe it's to do with all the newsreel clippings, and constant cuts to tense and crowded hearings. (Ebert, too, has something on this).

If you're a Robert Downey Jr. fan, there's a naughty sub-plot involving him and Patricia Clarkson, who looks much older than him, making things a bit confusing (in fact, Clarkson is only 6 years older to Jr). But this could be old Clooney's trick, and I'm not telling you their story. As I said in my take on The Constant Gardener, if you want the little mysteries intact, don't read Ebert before seeing the film.

Overall, GNGL is a well-made film, stylishly directed, not distinctly memorable, but brush up on your McCarthy if you want to make absolute sense out of it. As I said, it belongs to Strathairn. If we had as good an anchor for a Good Night show, he would make sure you’ll go to sleep thinking of what he just said. Or maybe that’s possible only in films…

Following is the promised EASIEST VISUAL QUIZ on HOLLYWOOD.
Don't blame me if you think the one on top is Mr Bogart ;-) ;-)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Oscar Feast III - The Constant Gardener (and the Fiennes smile)

The Constant Gardener (directed by Fernando Meirelles) is an artistic thriller adapted from John le Carre’s bestseller. I haven’t read any le Carre, but the film becomes a bit dark and one-man army in the end. There is a sad love story, a man who is happy with short-lived happiness, so long as he knows that his true love was true to him.

The issue is more serious and all-encompassing than Erin Brockovich’s crusade. An American drug MNC is using unsuspecting Kenyan locals for drug trials. Tessa (Rachel Weisz), wife of British official Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), gets wind of these goings-on. With the help of a Kenyan doctor, she starts her own sleuthing, hiding the facts from even her own husband. Before long, she’s more than just knee-deep in trouble… while quiet bureaucrat hubby dear indulges in his passion for gardening (and gives the film its name).

The film goes back and forth in time, starting with a shot of an overturned vehicle… Who did it? Was it an accident? Who was in it? If I even started giving you the story, it would be like telling all, and that would spoil this thriller if you are interested. The mysteries start right from the beginning… If you're OK with the smaller puzzles being revealed and want it from a pro, you can read up Roger Ebert.

There are little bits that add to the local suspense:
1. One of the British officials is in love with Tessa, and she has no qualms promising him a night in exchange for a letter that’ll help her in her investigations.
2. There’s the Kenyan doctor, Tessa’s good friend and able comrade in her fight, and rumoured to be going around with her. He arouses her husband’s suspicions.
3. Then there are the local police, who have the essential look and feel of corruption.
4. The corporate types, with their dark money secrets.
5. And finally, the husband himself, and whether he will rise to the occasion when the time comes...

I didn’t quite think Rachel Weisz deserved her Oscar (from what little she had of Brokeback Mountain, I thought Michelle Williams was superb as Ennis' wife). But Ralph Fiennes did a great job (his smile, girls, is Out Of This World, tho the pic here is not from the film).

And then there is Africa itself, like one of Thomas Hardy’s background-protagonists (remember Egdon Heath in The Return of the Native). Looming undeniable and larger-than-life, and made possible by some excellent cinematography and aerial shots of the bleak landscape. Don’t look for the trademark flat-top Savannah trees that've come to symbolise Africa or Mma Ramotswe’s stark contentment. This is as bleak and sinister as it gets...

Monday, March 13, 2006


There’s a little crowd gathering
A buzz going up.

I am in a roomful of people
I wait for whatever it is to happen
And with a start
I just know that I’ve come to see you.

I must have, for there you are
And if you are there
What other purpose should I have but you?

So I take my joyful stride
You see me in the midst of all those people
And look… amused? curious?
That stops me dead in my tracks...

Are you sure you aren’t feigning
That look of quizzical recognition?
But no, there you are
Relief flitting prominently across your face
You knew when I stood still
I wouldn’t insist on drawing closer.

There were others of course
And there they were
And there you were headed.

But it didn’t matter
Not anymore
Not as long as I could go on looking at you.

You went on, and further
And I concentrated with all my strength
On your face, when you turned
But didn’t scan the crowd
Glorious seconds that might have to last me a long while hence…

Would you believe me if I suggested
That even in that miserly dream
It was as if I knew you were slipping away from memory itself?

I shrug off the dream
I struggle before you become a speck in the crowd
I have very little time.

I have to memorise your face.