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.