Stranger Than Fiction, Closer To Reality

When I was a kid, I believed that the life we lead was actually someone else’s dream. The bad things would all end when they woke up and that none of the bad things were real. As a child, someone else always makes your decisions and you are pretty much happy that someone else steers the car for you. When you want to take control of your life, you know you’re growing up. That comforting thought, the ability to think someone else was dreaming my life for me, started to annoy me as I started growing up.

Then I started to think of myself as the leading lady of a film that was my life. I knew that no matter what mistakes I made, no matter how many times my heart broke and no matter how many times I failed, I would get up and make things right. It worked for me. It still does. The narrative of my life happens in my head, in my voice and most of the times this voice comes out as an affirmation. This narrative is a reminder that this is my life and that I am the creator of whatever happens in it.

What if I wake up and an alien voice starts narrating my life?

It would completely freak me out, despite the bizarre habit of narrating my own life in my head. So it comes as no surprise that Harold Crick, an IRS auditor gets completely psyched when he starts hearing the narrative of his life in a woman’s voice.

Stranger Than Fiction (2006) is the story of Harold Crick, who hears his life being narrated to him and then when the narration stops, Harold tries to figure out what lies ahead of him. Harold Crick is forced to break out of the monotony of his life and rediscover what genre his story falls under. Harold is auditing a deliberate tax evader, Ana Pascal. As he goes through her tax history, Harold starts to realise that he is attracted to Ana. If it weren’t for the narrative, Harold would have never noticed how he felt. I couldn’t help but wonder, how many times, we overlook what we really feel towards a thing or a person and go on to do what we think is right or what we think fits into our job description. Personally, every time I pass a shoe store, it would be cool to have a voice say, ‘She was attracted to the luminous silver sandals and the fiery red peep-toes. She found herself being pulled into the store to buy them, but as she tried the shoes on and walked to a mirror, she realised that she didn’t need them. They looked fabulous but the truth was that she was going to feel terribly guilty about buying them. Did she want to feel that guilty?’ Yes, a narrative can make you see things the way they are and no, you can’t suppress that voice.

It’s interesting to see Harold break out of his routine to live his life. The quest to find the genre of his life story becomes his life story. And he surrenders to the narrative of his life and prepares to embrace a tragic death because without the death, the narrative of his life would sound bland.  Irony.

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Look Who’s Calling

All I knew about ‘Karthik Calling Karthik’ before I entered the movie hall was that it’s about a loser who turns his life around. I fell in love with the opening credits, and then, the film just sort of rolled.
Karthik is a hard worker, but his work’s never noticed or appreciated. Karthik’s life is made up of an angry, domineering boss, indifferent coworkers who take credit for his achievements and a frustrating landlord. The fact that his lady love, Shonali, never notices him and is dating his coworker, doesn’t exactly make it all a rosy picture.  Things change when Karthik decides to stand up for himself and confront the boss. Karthik, has lost everything he had, but then a phone call shakes up his life. He manages to turn his life around and emerges a winner. He has a great job, a big pay packet and the love of his life is now his girlfriend. But who’s this Karthik who has been calling Karthik?
That’s the premise of the movie. The plot cleverly unfolds, although through the first half, you are convinced it’s all predictable. I was convinced that the whole movie would be about Karthik rising up and proving he’s not a loser. But I was mistaken.
The strength of the plot lasts only if the audience doesn’t know what to expect next. Therefore I won’t say anything else about the story. But I will say this, it grips you, makes you impatient even.
Farhan Akhtar is a brilliant actor and he’s proved it on prior occasions but Deepika really surprises you with a sincere effort to emote.
The loose ends get tied up in a rather clichéd manner toward the end and the epilogue is rather unnecessary. But all in all, I found the film entertaining and totally worth a watch…
My verdict: 4.5 on 5…

Learning is not equal to education…

This is not a review. These are random ramblings induced by the nostalgia of the horror that used to be school. The good memories of my childhood did not involve school, at all. Okay maybe the canteen but that’s it….

Though my parents firmly believed in education, they never believed in forcing education onto me or my sister. I failed in my first ever written exam in standard I and the teacher made it a point to tell my mother that I was a problem child. Mom took it upon herself to fix that, but when year after year, I managed to score and land in the scholarship class, the teachers did not stop labelling me a problem child, Mom decided something was off.  She decided to let me be but told me that I had to endure these subjects I hated just up to the tenth standard, because that’s how it works.

Soon enough, my sister came to school and she went through the same hell as I did. Mom, who was a little wiser let her be, until it came to a point where it started to worry her. We were obviously apprehended every time we scored single digit marks, but we were always encouraged to pursue what we liked. But even so, the lack of marks entailed failure, and that felt horribly wrong. It brought down our spirits and trust me, we did feel miserable. Those who scored 99 on 100 in maths or science were heroes and those like my sister, who might just about scrape maths but write a brilliant essay, were useless. Hell, once a teacher cut my marks in an essay because she did not understand the Dickens reference I made! If you scored well, you were put in august company of other super scorers in the ‘merit’ division. Otherwise, you would have to rot in backward classes with the under performers. So naturally every parent wished and hoped that their kid would make it into the merit class. As soon as I passed out, my sister changed schools to go to a better school. Though there were no merit divisions here, the school was swarming with problem teachers. While my teachers had asked my kundali to be reviewed for my grahadasha to find the problem behind my restlessness, the sister’s teachers said she had no hope of passing maths.

The sister has only scored distinctions in exams since she found a joy in learning which lead to her discovering the subject she loved (she went to 90 percent boss, eat that!) and she is now pursuing a Post Graduate diploma in one of the best advertising schools in the US. But of course, this will hold no value to that teacher who believed that if you are not a doctor or an engineer, your life was a failure. That woman, and many like her are the engineers of failure. She is a system checks that make the following quote, a fact.
‘I was born a genius, education ruined me’

So when Mahesh Manjarekar, in his controversially titled film, ‘Shikshanachya Aicha Gho!’ raises a question, ‘Who are you to decide who’s a failure or who’s a success on the basis of marks?’ I want to applaud him. When he questions the system, and says that it kills the joy of learning, I want to yell out, I agree.

It’s time we looked at education as something that creates, not something that manufactures. Of course, IB schools are around to change that, but these IB schools come at a price tag in the range of lakhs, completely out of the common man’s reach. Isn’t it time we did something about the fact that schools are getting more and more competitive? Or are we going to wait until a couple more 12 year olds commit suicide?

And if education can make a 12 year old feel like death is better, then truly, ‘Ya Shikshanachya Aicha Gho!’

Natarang: Must Watch!

‘Every man has a bit of a woman in him and every woman has a bit of a man in her…’ says Gunwantarao Kagalkar as he fights to prove to the world that his masculinity is intact but circumstances and his passion for his art have driven him to be the ‘Nachya’ the effeminate, graceful, half man half woman in a ‘Tamasha’

Story

Adapted from Dr.Anand Yadav’s novel by the same name, Natarang is the story of Gunwantrao aka Guna Kagalkar played by Atul Kulkarni. Guna is a helping hand on the farm and someone quite disinterested in anything but the art of Tamashaa. Tamashaa, is his creative outlet, but the world does not get it…

When the landlord fixes a pump to draw water out of the well, Guna and his friends are rendered jobless. To overcome their unemployment, Guna decides to set up his own Tamashaa crew. He works through the challenges of writing the songs and plays, getting the actors to learn their dialogue, but when their only hope, a young girl, who could be their heroine, demands a Nachya, he finds himself at a loss. No man would put his masculinity on the line for an art form but for Guna, this is his passion. Guna transforms himself from a hatta-katta pehelvan into an effeminate Nachya and their Tamashaa crew starts pulling in the bucks. However, Guna’s struggle doesn’t end here. He has to fight politicos, the society that questions his masculinity and to convince this very society that Tamashaa is a form of art and Tamashgirs, artistes.

I always enjoy films or books that give me something beyond the premise of the story, and Natarang goes to do that on many levels. Be it chronicling the folk art form, which by the way is almost never visible to us urban ‘Maharashtrians’ or be it talking about an artiste’s struggle in swimming against the tide, Natarang touches a chord and how…

Performance

Atul Kulkarni, yet again proves himself to be a brilliant performer as he switches from the ‘tagda’ Guna to the ever so graceful Nachya. When he moves, you cannot take your eyes off him, and when he burns to tell the world that labels him ‘Phalkya’ (Marathi slang for Gay), that he is nothing but a passionate ‘Kalakaar’, you burn with him. The grace he brings to the character is phenomenal… Right before the interval as he transforms into the ‘Nachya’ you can’t help but applaud. Sonali’s (not Sonali Kulkarni as buzz18 conveniently calls her) introduction in the film as the young, graceful Naina Kolhapurkarin, makes you want to get up and dance.

The Music

The soul of the film is the fabulous background score by Ajay-Atul. It captures emotions of every scene, every character and just creates magic. They are my favourite music directors and you will know why when you watch the film.
Biggest drawback, in my opinion is the lack of subtitles. A passionate film like this should not be limited to an audience of one language alone.

My take: 4.5/5

And yes, this is the second Marathi film I’ve seen in the past month, first being Gabhricha Paus, and I am proud to say that in quality of content and creating that magic of cinema, Marathi films are way ahead than the much larger Bollywood. I want to congratulate the entire unit of Natarang for creating this fabulous cinematic experience that captures entertains, emotes and enriches the mind of the Cinephile in me…

Drowned In Gulaal!

The timing of Gulaal’s release is just fantastic. Right after Holi and just before elections. Gulaal tells the story of a nobody, Dileep Singh. This nobody is a colourless, passionless character who is a student who looks like a professor. He’s straightforward and never challenges things that happen to him. He takes to the shadows of Rananjay Singh, a hot blood youth who doesn’t fear challenges- a ‘true’ Rajput. As Rananjay steps in to contest for the post of GS, the college turns into a battle field. In the fight for the post, two candidates put everything at stake. It is this fight for power that starts adding colour to our straightforward protagonist.

Gulaal’s story is multi layered and it unfolds itself. But the beauty is in the characters. Every character is complex and alive and it is through them that the story unfolds. The characters create the story and vice-versa, a give and take one rarely sees in Indian cinema. Kashyap’s Gulaal uses characters as a form of telling the story but his characters are also metaphors and symbols. Be it the John Lennon that hangs in Prithvibana’s neck or the dancer/beautician’s obsession with herself, or the Kiran who silently plucks the strings on her guitar as her brother decides the course of her life. Kashyap uses music, lyrics and musical metaphors brilliantly. Of course the neon signs and the psychedelic paintings at Dileep’s residence remind us of Dev D.

When Mr. Kashyap says this is his angriest film till date, you believe it. He uses every possible metaphor to bring out the anger, frustration and disappointment that he feels against the establishment or the system in which people become an establishment. The rendition of ‘Yeh Duniya Agar’ from Pyasa just takes this entire symphony to a climax, where you soak in the anger and you watch it helpless swallow and digest all that comes in its way. It takes me back to the original song, where Guru Dutt dies in a stampede at a function held in his honour and nobody recognises him. And here, we have Dileep, who wonders if he recognises himself as he walks down a street, wounded. It’s a similar ethos, but brilliantly executed in the context of Gulaal.

It depressed me to see an empty theatre on day 4 of this fabulous film. It didn’t deserve an empty theatre, I clapped after the film, for films like these need to be made. Films that use reality to tell a fictional story that is ever so cleverly crafted needs to be seen and appreciated. Overheard after the movie: Dude, Bhojpuri films are not as bad as they’re made out to be. This one was serious and all that! Right! I’m glad the theatre wasn’t as empty as this woman’s brain.

Cheers, Mr. Kashyap!

Review: Bachna Ae Haseeno!

I don’t trust film critics these days. They are highly biased and I’ve found myself enjoying quite a few films that they panned and I have detested some films they glorified. So despite all the bashing the film got, I jumped at Sneha’s plan.

Let me give you a background. Although everyone’s enjoying the long weekend and all that, most of the CampusJunkie team was reading articles and busy rating them. By Saturday afternoon I was exhausted. The film was a break from all the work.

The story:

It doesn’t take too much to guess that BAH is a good looking, sweet-talking guy’s story. He’s been surrounded by hot women, and he starts talking about three loves of his life… He can put all you romeos to shame with his moves and of course, his looks. The first half is a fun-filled, picturesque narrative of how Raj (Ranbir) goes around breaking hearts before his very own heart gets broken. The second half is an emotional (almost bordering on the ham side of things) roller-coaster as Raj sets out to seek redemption and apologise for his actions.

The first half is extremely fun, it’s got your typical Yashraj film elements(Europe, DDLJ fan and a missed train, what can get more Yashraj than this?) The second half continues to be inspired by DDLJ too but starts getting a tad boring. Siddharth Anand should give up on trying to make his audience weep. It doesn’t work! (Please refer to Ta Ra Rum Pum)

Performance:

Ranbir rides on his family equity yet again. In Saawariya, he encashed the Raj Kapoor equity and now with Bachna Ae Haseeno he tries a hand at encashing his father’s brand equity. But I welcome the chocolate hero of the new era of Bollywood. We’ve had quite a few actors unsuccessfully trying to cater to the chocolate boy image that Rishi Kapoor, Aamir Khan enjoyed through the initial years of their careers. Ranbir fits that image effortlessly. One tip though, keep the lipstick a shade lighter, Ranbir. Nobody likes a boy with rose-bud pink lips!

Minisha fails to emote except when she’s crying. With her flawless skin and all that, she looks like the quintessential Punjabi soni kudi.

Bipasha: BIMBO! She looks horrible. Her attempt at being the girl next door who is trying to make it big in Bollywood, falls flat on its face. She pulls of a JLo-esque Bollywood superstar Shreya effortlessly though.

Deepika: Make-up doesn’t suit her. She looks a bit too fake and her acting skills need some polishing. However, she’s a sight to see in ‘Khuda Jaane’. The woman does have breathtaking features.

Final Word:

It’s a nice movie to catch on a Saturday evening. According to Sneha, it’s a great date movie as well. A much better film from the Yashraj banner after the horrific crap that they’ve been coming out with last year (hello! Remember JBJ & Tashan?!?) This one however, cannot compete with a DDLJ or DTPH. So it hangs somewhere in between…

My verdict:

Watch once if you want to have fun. Enjoy the peppy title track and the soothing Khuda Jaane and get refreshed. I sure am!

Changed for good

Diwakar had tagged me ages ago on his blog. I decided to write it out today… These are the things that changed me… Looking back at all these things made me realise that many things touch you and you don’t even realise what a transformation they bring about in your personality.

A Writer and two books: Each book I’ve read made a difference to my life. Be it a book like Single in the city or a novel like The Kite Runner or even The Secret. Each book taught me how to feel, how to understand, how to think…

One book that changed me remarkably was Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. It made me realise the power of wanting, the power of my heart. Same goes for The Secret by Rhonda Byrnes. It made me realise the power of things that I already knew. It reduced my pessimism, it made me believe.

Khalid Hosseini and Margaret Atwood taught me how to look deep within characters. The Kite Runner and The Blind Assassin are two books that made me realise that I want to write more, and I want to write better.

A Movie:

I eat, sleep and breathe cinema. I enjoy most of it including ultimate dreamy bollywood melodramas, to bollywood classics a la Sholay to Hollywood romances, action. There’s also been a lot of World cinema on my DVD player.

A movie that made me want to contribute in some way to cinema is You’ve Got Mail. The film is brilliantly written and plays forward with the characters. Recently, watching Khuda Kay Liye and The Dark Knight put a lot creative wheels in motion for me.

Having said that, I must say that I have written a novel, which might make a great film someday. Only if Karan Johar would have it! Wishful thinking, but then, I believe in destiny.

A Person:

There have been many people who have made a big difference in my life. But one of the most important among them is Nilu Niranjana Gavankar. She is a woman who’s lived her life on her own terms. She worked in the US with Bechtel, and then she came to Mumbai to make a film! She did it, she made the film. But she also touched my family’s life in that period. She taught me how to look beyond the obvious. She made me believe that I was special. She taught me how to value what I had. She made me believe in the power of stories. She made me.

In my teens, if there was one person who decided where my life would go, it was Nilu. We haven’t been in touch for a long time, but somehow I remember her everyday.

My sister. She came into my life and transformed it. She is the voice of reason in my life. She is someone who I can depend on. I cant imagine life without her.

Its hard to think of just a few people…. Raj Kamble, Shashikant Sawant, Javed Akhtar (through his book and his lyrics), Warsha and Rahul Kale, Avinash Paranjape, Bharat Kaka… I have been blessed with these wonderful people who enrich my life each day…

Events:

My school life. It was extremely dorky, weird and I don’t think I can ecognise the person I used to be back in school.

My college days at KC. I realised that loving someone along with their flaws is the most staifying feeling ever.

My uni days at Sussex. They taught me how to be on my own. They made me love solitude.

My days at Yuva: I met very special people while I was working here. The friendships still exist though I have moved on from Yuva.

Nimmai’s death… Dealing with bereavement was the hardest thing. To deal with the fact that I won’t ever see my grandmother again just took days… Even today if I pass by Poonam Baug, tears well up…

I tag: Vishesh, Yashshri, Sneha, Jugal, Pooja and Mruns