Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mirch Masala: A tale of Sonbai

This post was first published on PFC. You can check the comments it got on the website itself.

mirch masala

Sonbai walks in the lanes of an unnamed village with a ghada (metal matka, water container) on her head. She is in the middle of her hen-party, with all members skillfully balancing the ghadas on their heads, and you know that Sonbai is a leader.

As the group of these exotically dressed women pass through a gang of by-sitters loitering around the quintessential banyan-tree-chowraha combination, they are welcomed with derogatory remarks. One of the men calls her a diamond yet unpolished. Sonbai pretends to ignore and avoids a retort, but not without uttering a few disapproving obscenities to her friends and followers. The leader knows how to handle those men whose idea of contempt of a woman comes from low self-respect and a pretense of strong masculinity.

As the group of women disperses to walk towards their ‘destiny’ation. Sonbai has business to attend to, and she walks up to the baniya store to buy some oil. The baniya demands money for the goods purchased; in an undertone, he probably insinuates acceptance of other favors in the absence of currency . Sonbai dodges any implied meanings, cajoles him with purpose and walks off with the desired quantity of oil with a smirk on her face. She cannot tell the baniya off, as he employs her and her husband. As the boss sees the luscious back of Sonbai walking away, he can’t help but yell out his frustration with a risque remark; “Sasuri puri raat jagati hogi marad ko” – reason why once again her husband didn’t show up for work. Yes, she can do that. She has the beauty and attraction capable of doing that, but they are reserved for but one man.

And she meets the man sleeping outside what’s almost a hut. Sonbai gets playful, and teases the husband. The husband is grumpy over the hopeless working conditions in this hopeless land. He wants to go to a city to find a good job. Sonbai is clearly unhappy with his dream, and pleads, shows love and plays about every card available up the sleeve of a woman in love.


A gang of sepoys pass by an insect-infested scarecrow standing in the middle of a farm. The scarecrow has just been beheaded by a farmer’s stone. It doesn’t mind it, as it is not a living organism.

There are women at the lake feeling water in their ghadas. The sepoys, now visibly lead by someone arrive at the lake and all women scatter, expectedly. Un-expectedly one maintains her ground, looks in the eye of the leader. The leader, a lanky figure with commanding eye stares back. His eyes hold more bewilderment which turns into lust quickly, still not just letting it out. Both the alpha male and female exchange dialogues; – the male wants to quench his thirst and the woman wants him to behave properly, not like an animal. The woman gives him water when he promises to comply, but when he is done drinking, we know the woman played nicely and won. The leader, called Subedar, was not able to get what he wanted. Not yet.


smita patil in mirch masala

The Subedar would not live without having Sonbai. He promises destruction that no one could afford. Sonbai would not give away her pride, and the man who is supposed to protect her is not around. The men who are supposed to protect her have given in to the will of the man who holds the gun. Some woman who are aged, mature and with a knowledge of the schemes of the world also try to persuade Sonbai to give herself in to the Subedar, for the greater good of the village and its people. No, is the answer. Always. Firm. What happens after that, is the clash between only the power and the seemingly weak, but also between the conventional wisdom and someone who have just found their way of doing things.

The 1980’s saw a very consistent and continued rise of parallel films in Hindi film industry. On one hand we had films that still linger in our memory as Torture series, on the other hand a fistful of directors fresh out of film institutes, full of attitude and josh to change the world were giving a new voice to their dreams, hopes, frustrations and struggles.

One from the crop of those directors was Ketan Mehta. His first film, Bhav ni Bhavai and second film Holi (with Aamir Khan) were two different subjects completely unrelated in nature, with the central theme of rebel. While the rebel had a form of subdued frustration in the first one, the second took it to another level of aggression.

His third film, Mirch Masala had a different class raising its head against the societal norms. This is a story which can be described as a microcosm of India at any time in the history. The women in the film have been conveniently denied their rights, and not only by men but by conventions. There are male characters who do not quite agree with the stronger members of the society, but their voice is oppressed. How they find their own voice against the society is a theme Ketan Mehta once again tries to explore with. The original story is written by Chunilal Madia and screenplay by Ketan Mehta and Shafi Hakim. There is a Zaverchand Meghani flavor to the subject matter, but to do justice to writers they maintain their own style.

At times you feel that all the characters are a little bit too obvious. A villain is a villain and he is supposed to be bad. So he is bad, with a wicked mustache. Often the “Men bad, women good” is not so subtle. An educated men is like one in the frogs’ party. He is ridiculed for his unconventional views, harassed and he also wears spectacles. So we are to understand that the villagers do not value education or anything that challenges their existing thought process. But Sonbai is one character that makes up for any nitpicking flaws.

The cast includes Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah, Deepti Naval, Supriya, Deena, Ratna Pathak, Raju Panchal, Om Puri, Raj Babbar (in a cameo), Suresh Oberoi, Ben Gilani, Paresh Rawal and Mohan Gokhle. There is Amole Gupte in a small role, and he is also AD of the film. The acting is adequate from the supporting lot. Naseeruddin Shah acts well but his character is sort of uni-dimensional. Om Puri acts as a character of an age that he even today does not look, but very convincingly. Deepti Naval is good, and so are sisters Supriya and Ratna in their bubbly, naive villager act.

Show stealer is without any doubt Smita Patil. Here she looks so sensuous you wish why she didn’t do a few more ‘Jaane Kaise Kab Kahan’. She looks so strong in her character as a woman who after all her village life knows her ways, you wish why she did not go for politics as a parallel career. And you realize what we are missing in the roles of women today, and the actresses that depict them. Watch it for Sonbai and Smita Patil.

Next: Further analysis of other characters. I was so 'smit'ten by Smita Patil that this post got dedicated to her, and one of the strongest female characters in Hindi cinema. Next post will try to dissect the character of Deepti Naval as opposed to Sonbai's, as well as the metaphors in them.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Blue Music (A R Rahman) Review: And an analysis of Chiggy Wiggy

Blue is an ambitious project. It is not only a very expensive project, possibly most expensive so far, but aims to combine mass appeal with classiness. So you have some of the best of the business roped in to ensure the best end result. What is contradictory is that the director and the writer, Anthony D'souza and Bryan Sullivan are newer names in the credit list that boasts of some of the biggies of not only Bollywood but also from that other tiny industry in LA that tries to come out of Bollywood's shadow.

So you have Oscar winner A R Rahman at the helm of the music department. We have all read a number of times how he was under pressure (not that he went scuba-diving) to deliver a soundtrack right after a new-found Oscar glory. Now that he has had his appearances with Pussycat Dolls, Akon and who's who of the world, he has to match up the expectations of possibly a very larger base of fans. Everyone has gone and heard Dil Se, Roja, Thiruda Thiruda now, and only expects more from him. He also has the best technicians at his service and we know that.

Which brings me to a rather unsung hero, Resul Pookutty. Technicians by their mere definition do not get the kind of fame India they deserve. The scenario has however been changing with a veriety of subject matters demanding the best technology. Love Story 2050 (a future classic, got released way before its time, precisely 42 years), Kaminey and some other films - appointed phoren technicians to achieve desired effects. Fortunately now we have Resul so we don't have to outsource that one job to foreigners. But then the action directors are the ones who choreographed for the Fast and the Furious. And there is one more foreigner involved (coming up). Yikes!

The music of Blue, well isn't that what the post is all about!!

The album opens with a weird sound which is like a shrill through the cold night. Well may be that was the case with our next outsourcing agency, err...singer, Kylie Minogue. I have known Kylie only from her two Billboard Number One dance songs, which worked as a comeback for her - Can't Get You Out of My Head and Come into My World. I am no fan of her pop sound but these two songs had quite that bye-bye-90's club feel to it.

Coming back to the Blue song, Chiggy Wiggy, is how it's called. Kylie calls 'I wanna Chiggy Wiggy 1 with you boy' at high pitch, a characteristic seen in male birds to woo females. The lyrics by Abbas Tyrewala is good with subtle layers displaying Kylie's commitment phobia and the music has a Britney feel to it. Quite an evidence that Rahman can produce like that Timbaland. Mid-way the song something unexpected happens, and no it isn't Akshay Kumar hanging high from the rope to slide down to the stage. He has done that a million times before in every award function. It is Sonu Nigaam (trivia question: how many 'a's in Nigam? answer: two) answering Kylie's call. He wants to 'chiggy wiggy' too with this 'soniye', 'hiriye' (revenge for the outsourced jobs on his mind may be) damsel, but not before he has displayed his knowledge of Urdu for better job prospects. The song is addictive, but then 60% of it is typical in how international female pop- singer would sing and what India's answer to international pop would be - bhangra.

Next is 'Aaj Dil Gustakh hai' sung by floral Shreya Ghoshal and macho-floral Sukhwinder Singh. The song takes the scenic route and involves terrific modern jazz piano play and a high energy, fast paced rhythm. Shreya takes the song to another level by infusing passion into the song, while Sukhwinder restrains the mood a bit (hear him sing 'Waqt ko itni jaldi hai kyon'). This seesaw effect works quite well between the two, and you can visualize a young woman breaking free, and an older (which rules out Zayed Khan) and mature (which rules out both Zayed and AK) man who can't run. 10 Brownie points if you guess who features in the song.

'Fiqrana' is a song that advises its listeners to live without worry and 'kham-a-kha' (full of immaturity, useless, in vain 2) in behakate gulzaaro, chamakte sitaaron and dehakate angaaro mein. The song has a good structure with round-shaped dhun, with a devil-may-care attitude of carefreeness in both its music and tune. It is in the league of Masti ki Paathshaala where the tune itself is free-flowing. Before you hear the lyrics you know this is going to be a song with fultoo attitude (I so wanted to use this phrase!). The singers are Vijay Prakash and Shreya Ghoshal.

'Bhoola Tujhe' gets the least footage in this post. It is a good song, or so I hear from others. I don't like it as much as others for two reasons - one it sounds much like Kahin to from JTYJN, a very cheesy soft-ballad'ish track from 80's, and I hate 80's cheesy romantic songs. Two, well there is no other reason. It sometimes sounds good but I will reserve my opinion for later.

But the 'Blue Theme' or 'Ba-loo theme' or 'Ballu theme' or 'Bi-loo theme' - whatever you want to call it - makes up for its low-energy precedent. Sung by a motley crew of singers (Blaaze - I bet he would rap even in ARR's bhajan songs, Raqeeb Alam, Sonu Kakkar, Jaspreet Singh, Neha Kakkar, Dilshad), it has the required degree of enthusiasm and punch for an action-thriller movie. I caught a glimpse of this on TV and they were messing with underwater creatures during the song. You get the idea.

That brings us to Rehnuma - a track that has already become famous as a James Bond theme-like song. I hear the haunting crooning by Shreya Ghoshal, I hear the dark chorus. What rather affirms my belief in viral spread of 'tags' in this small blogosphere on Indian films is that almost each review of Blue soundtrack I've read, and I read quite a few of them, mentions this James Bond thing. Why? Are there not other haunting tracks in English or Hindi or Tamil pop? Ever heard the Doom metal genre? Gothic metal? Atmospheric and ambient? Is the song resembling to any particular JB theme song? Is it The World is Not Enough song? No one ever noticed the oh-so-famous Kashmir guitar riff re-dux? Strange.

Rehnuma is a super-cool song nevertheless and demonstrates both the singers' - Sonu Nigaam and Shreya - versatility. The song starts on a slow passionate note by Shreya, which Sonu Nigaam takes to a pinnacle. It is quite remarkable how they sing the song.

Yaar Mila Tha Saiya is the dehaati chhed chhad song. Rahman re-visits this genre after Delhi-6 and fuses hip-hop beats and background vocals in it. The lyrics are quite fun and if properly played it can become a floor scorcher. Udit Narayan and Madhusree sing it quite well.

Blue belongs more to the music director and singers than its lyricists. Although the lyrics are good, I was unable to see a how even English pop-listening Indian audience would connect to 'Summer Barbecue' phrases in Chiggy Wiggy! This is vintage Rahman in a way that the overpower the lyricists (the PK Mishra and Mehboob-dubbed soundtrack days). Also unlike Jodhhaa Akbar and JTYJN, the album takes longer to register. Rahman experiments with the songs on surface by using modern jazz fusion and hip-hop and haunting melodies, and keeping them routine at the core. For example, the sad song is a ballad as one would expect, the Chiggy Wiggy song does not have any innovative beats and has the baap-of-cliches bhangra, but things take a novel turn with Urdu lyrics. Although I have written a rather long point of view, this album is best enjoyed with the true ambiance and without a baggage of analysis.

Footnote: 1 - alternate meaning of Chiggy Wiggy
2 - deeper spiritual meaning - at ease, with self; (ref: the secret spiritual dictionary of a certain Chopra)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

NFL for Networking

National Football League is one of the biggest event in USA. Americans love football, and how. It occupies their 'beer and chips' Sundays. While the recession may make NFL lose some of its sheen, it will still be a great event to cheer up people in a time that has not been so good otherwise.

However, with the economy beginning to recover, it will be interesting to see how people can capitalize on this event to help them land with a new job, a new contract or a new business opportunity. This can become a gigantic networking event spanning over the course of six months.

How can you utilize this time to network with your prospective client or employer?

Sports events open people up. Since most of these events are on Sundays or Thursdays, when people are at their casual best, they do not have their guards up. You can always find a fan in your prospective employer, or the other way around. Specially people from similar geographical regions tend to follow same teams and you can easily connect with people on this.

Second venue that becomes available during NFL season is 'draft pool' groups. If you are one of the great fans, you can meet lot of other like-minded fans and who knows! The more people you are connected with, the more your chances of landing with that new opportunity.

Possibly people who you meet at these events will not likely be interested in even talking about job scenarios or economy. But some high-level managers and executives have a good ear for things. Your enthusiasm for the sport will definitely get you noticed more for your attention to details. You can show your knowledge if you champion the game. If you don't know the sport so well yourself, just pay close attention to what they talk about and show that you are a good listener (specially because they are more willing to talk about this sort of casual topics) and willing to learn new things.

During the time of NFL season, every Monday morning starts with discussions about last night's games. It works as a great ice-breaker. I have personally used this technique to gel with more people at different work sites. And I know of a certain ex-colleague who was immensely popular among even higher execs for his enthusiasm and knowledge of different sports.

Utilize this big event for your networking. If nothing else, you would make some new acquaintances who know someone else who has got your next job, or next assignment. Promote yourself as someone with knowledge on a variety of things, a good listening ability. Exchange your Twitter handles after such casual sports bar meetings (mine is @Tejas_Bhatt). Send a casual message after you've met for the first time, and if possible meet for another games. You know the deal.

PS: This post could have been just as much true about FIFA, European Football Cups or English Premier League. Heck even IPL or ICC-WC. It just made sense for the time to concentrate on NFL as it is definitely a huge event starting next month itself.