Sheer Melody

A mole's eye-view of the Cosmos

Erroneous introspection

It seems that ever since Rang de Basanti (in the words of the 'alternate moebyus' "Wrong Day Basanti"); a lot of pseudo-patriotic Indians have started introspecting. Me - I am an honest person, or at least I think myself to be one; and I hate hypocrisy. So here is what I found on one blog, who interestingly is wondering if Indians are the worst imitators on earth. Talk of self-condescension, and there is nothing better than the eleven questions that this person has posted.

1. Do we think in our mother tongue (or even Hindi for that matter ) ?

Yes, I think I do. Most of the time, I think in Bangla; and when I am not doing that, I tend to think in English. Because I am used to it. And why would a person (let's say - someone from South India) even think in Hindi? Half of them don't even know it! (The 'or even Hindi for that matter?' part makes no, let me repeat, NO sense at all!

2. What is the medium of instruction in our school , college or Institute ?

It's English. And it should be English or the mother tongue. It should preferably be English, because if it is not, then at professional courses you will have loads of bumpkins cursing the days they spent in vernacular schools and colleges, and wondering why they are unable to understand anything which the teacher says. All's good with wanting vernacular education, but you need to send your kids to regional-language schools and not the 'convent' ones!

3. What language am i more comfortable reading ?

English and Bangla. Which is expected. And I don't pretend: I like reading English, because I am more comfortable with it; but I am definitely passably comfortable with Bangla, and enjoy reading it. If you don't like reading your own mother-tongue, you are the imitator; not Indians in general!

4. Do i quench my thirst with Coke, Pepsi or with Chaach , lassi , nimbupani ?

I quench my thirst with water, because that's what normal people do. Think about it, and not more than 3 out of ten of your friends would use Coke/Fanta/Slice as a thirst-quencher!

5. Are my favorite hangouts Barista , Subway and McDonald ?

No, they aren't, because a meal there doesn't fill me. I prefer a good old Indian joint with a generous helping of rice/chapati... Seriously! Most Indians feel the same way!

6. Do i wear anything other than Nike, Adidas , or Reebok ?

Yes, I wear clothes which I find in most designer stores. You don't expect me to come to office dressed in a dhoti? Do you?

7. Do I listen to English Songs more than Hindi Songs ?

Yes, and that's a matter of personal choice. And just for the record, there are other languages spoken in India. When I am not listening to English songs, I prefer listening to Bangla songs, since that's my mother-tongue. A distant third in the list would be Hindi.

8. Do i prefer Hollywood movies to Hindi Movies ?

Yes, because Hindi movies are bullshit! At least, most of them! Did anyone watch Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna??? And please don't come up with "Rang de Basanti" or "Black" as a retort, because then I would definitely shoot you. I wouldn't even repent it. You deserve it!

9. Do i use expressions such as "Chill Dude" , "Lets hangout " , "rock the party, man" ?

No, I don't. It's because I think I am normal...

10. Do I think that Philip Kotler is Marketing God ?

No, I don't. Why should I?

11. Are my preferences shaped by American media ?

No, I don't think they are. My preferences are shaped by my personal choices, peeves and concerns. Thank goodness no media of any kind has anything to do with it.

Dunno why I had to make this post, but somehow this guy's rants about hypocritic Indians was so over the top. To top it all, he does realize at the end of it all that he has lost his identity. No wonder!

The village in Bengal

An absolutely amazing description of the Bengal village, courtesy Satyajit Ray. I couldn't help but post it here for posterity.

One day’s work with camera and actors taught me more than all the dozen books I read on film making. I found out for myself how to catch the hushed stillness of dusk in a Bengali village, when the wind drops and turns the ponds into sheets of glass, and the smoke from the ovens settles in wispy trails over the landscape, and plaintive blows on conch shells from homes far and near are joined by the chorus of crickets which rise as the light falls, until all one sees are stars in the sky, and the fireflies that blink and swirl in the thickets.


May his soul rest in peace

Who's Anthony? Who the hell cares?

Interesting fruitless experience watching Anthony Kaun Hai last night.

And in this movie, we have Arshad Warsi and Sanjay Dutt back in action in a comic-thriller. As a genre, the comic thriller in circular flashback was immortalized in Pulp Fiction, and I was secretly glad that this movie was not trying too hard to match the Tarantinosque dialogue in Pulp Fiction.

Spoiler warning: Plot details follow

This brings one to the central plot of the film… Arshad Warsi plays the role of Champak Chaudhury, who's a petty criminal with a primary job of faking passports; and incidentally has only pretty Thai women coming to him for services. Why, I assumed time would tell, but apparently that was not one of the questions which the film answered in the end. Of course, in addition to Champak, we have Sanjay Dutt, the hit-man who hates people committing mistakes, and also loves using his gun – a gun fitted with a nice big silencer. He also owns a red Ferrari. Champak, called Champ by friends and the several pretty Thai women, is in supposed love with Rosa, who is undoubtedly hot and unfortunately not ready to marry Champ. Considering Champ’s perennial attire of dirty clothes coupled with an unkempt four-year old beard, one does not fault her decision. Champ, however desperately wants to marry Rosa, and finally, on a day of miracles, she agrees to marry him. The wedding is planned, but minutes before the wedding kiss, Champ is arrested. Woe of all woes, he is sentenced to six months in prison. Rosa, who definitely doesn’t have patience as a key virtue, stops wearing bikinis and promptly gets married to another friend and gets pregnant with due haste, notwithstanding the fact that she knew about Champ’s dealership in fake passports, and notwithstanding the fact that she had been refusing to marry Champ for the last few months.

But that is not the end of the movie. Champ goes to jail and becomes friends with Jiya’s (who happens to be the chief female protagonist) dad, a diamond thief, who used to dress up as statues and steal diamonds from the necklace of the Queen of Thailand. It’s a different matter, of course, that touching the queen in Thailand without permission is considered an act of sacrilege and frequently invites extreme displeasure and some amount of punishment. Jiya’s dad had a similar fate because he was caught as he was trying to smuggle the diamonds off at a pawn shop, and subsequently decided to stay quiet for the remainder of his time in the prison; in the hope that a life devoid of fun and laughter would bring him closer to his daughter. Soon after he meets Champ, tragedy strikes his family and he decides to leave jail with Champ’s help. Initially reluctant to help the old geezer, Champ finally agrees, lured by the story of the diamonds which the old man had supposedly hidden somewhere in Bangkok. This leads to a series of activities, culminating in Champ coming out of jail, the old geezer getting shot in a miserably shot gun-attack, Champ getting back in jail just to be closer to the place where the diamonds were buried (since the place where the diamonds had been buried was now another jail of Bangkok). Everything becomes complex and obscure now, and the plot stops making sense.

Add to this confused cast and confused direction, a super-intelligent policeman, the smartest on the Bangkok police force, a Hindi-speaking Indian (who incidentally speaks in Hindi with the members of the Thai police force), member of Interpol, who loves singing while investigating (frequently the songs are incongruous old Hindi songs), and you have the whole gamut, flitting in and out of the movie, with the end result that you know very little about each individual. In the course of the movie, you do come to know that Jiya has a homing pigeon (clearly Jiya’s love for pigeons and feeding them was hereditary) which Champ and she use to communicate during Champ’s voluntary stay in the prison. You also come to know about a freelance journalist named Anthony Gonsalves (the similarity with a character in a 70s movie of the same name is purely coincidental) who roamed around night clubs looking for scandal, and by the beginning of the second half of the movie, we finally realize that it’s this journalist who is the original Anthony and it’s just a sad case of mistaken identity. Of course, you would tend to expect a startling revelation in the end, but in the interests of having a happy and satisfying ending, such possible startling revelations are quietly shelved to the back of the table as you realize that you have just finished watching yet another movie which showed promise but failed to live up to it.

The basic plot of the film is based on a 2001 Hollywood movie, “Who is Cletis Tout?” The plot and narrative motif matches the original greatly; and although the film fails to impress as a whole, there are a few good performances. Arshad Warsi impresses in managing to carry a movie on his shoulders. Maybe the cameraman did a lousy job with the camera; because even though Arshad puts in a great performance to boot, his screen presence leaves a lot to be desired. The girl who plays the role of Jiya (I don’t know her name); is good in flashes, but at most places it seems as though she is just on commitment-fulfilling mode. Gulshan Grover plays his part well, and the mad doctor with a penchant for cutting open dead bodies and cracking dirty, commonplace jokes is good in his role. As an aside, I would also like to mention that the jokes the doctor cracks are horrid, turd-like and severely retard the movement of the film. The scene where Lucky, the spoilt millionaire brat, snorts coke and asks the girl to do the same bears striking similarity to a scene of a similar nature in Pulp Fiction. Of course, the subsequent murder scene looks hopefully insipid and not at all awe-inspiring. I never knew cell-phone cameras can actually enable shooting a movie with so many angles and zoom-settings. There are a few notable moments, primarily the Yash Chopra scene which had most of the audience in splits. The stories seem well-linked at times and sometimes strike a discordant note, but the direction is in general better than other Kaushal movies. The music is bad, with a capital ‘B’, and the songs retard the movie than take it forward. All in all, just like any other movie, it will turn out to be a waste of money – and you will feel just worse after you write a review like I did.

Postscript: The saving grace is some good cinematography which manages to outline and accentuate the natural beauty of Thailand’s beaches, primarily Krabi. There are quite a few grave errors in the use of the Thai language, which thankfully, the Thai people won’t get to see and would therefore not have to forgive; Arshad Warsi is seen in several scenes to reply to greetings as “Sawadee Khaa”, when it should actually be “Sawadee Khap” when spoken by a man. This is of course, not noticeable to the general audience, but makes a bad impression on anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Thai greetings. In addition to that, the corny photography inside the massage parlor; the consistent absence of subtitles when there is a long-drawn Thai conversation, is irritating to say the least. Subtitles sometimes can be done away with when:
1) The screenplay is fascinating enough to omit the need for them;
2) The acting is top-notch.
In this case neither was the screenplay fascinating, nor was the acting of the highest caliber. The absence of subtitles is not justifiable.

All in all, the actual effect of a substantially poorly-made film was probably magnified by the sheer ineptitude of the previous screen-movie, KANK (Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna for the uninitiated). Anthony Kaun Hai fails to impress.

Mother Teresa Sarani

Park Street was recently christened Mother Teresa Sarani (Sarani is Bangla for road).

Park Street geographically runs from Mullick Bazar to Chowringhee Road, two parts of the city diametrically apart, geographically and economically too. My early memories of Park Street are strangely rather impersonal, dropping Dad at office with Ma and traveling through the thoroughfare, the innocence of youth making me stick my nose to the window of the taxi. A childhood spent mostly in the relative quiet and absence of hustle of bustle made my two-year stay in Kolkata memorable, and my tryst with The Street an influence that would stay undying for the rest of my life.

Bangalore has its Brigade Road, Delhi has its shopping-malls, Bombay has its pubs and the ubiquitous Juhu beach, and Kolkata has Park Street. It’s like the place to be. Kolkata’s prime dining and enjoyment district in the city for the last century, this street has seen changes, a lot of revolution, some bloodshed, and in spite of all that, has managed, quite amazingly to retain the charm and uniqueness which enthralled generations before us. As my friend, Saunak has stated very beautifully in his blog:

Deja-vu. That’s what the Street stands for … to the teeming millions in the city. Whenever there is a talk about the Street getting renamed, there is an inevitable twang in the hearts of those millions, spread all over the globe, like the sudden news of a childhood sweetheart getting married.

Park Street is a lovely place to be, and ensconced in the warm interiors of Peter Cat as the rains pound on the pavement as booksellers rush to stow their stores away into safer shelters has been, for a long time, my idea of a lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s a different matter that this has not happened for a long time now, but well, who doesn’t like to indulge in a little nostalgia.

Park Street abounds in pubs and coffee-shops, and the most famous of these coffee shops is indubitably Flurys’. In a city where people love to wallow in the grey shades of ancientness, Flurys’ is not just a restaurant – it is an institution. Pretty much in the centre of Park Street, next to Music World, this place has the most delectable collection of pastries I have seen, and some absolutely wonderful coffee. The place was recently renovated, and there is an endless dispute between the oldies and the newbies as to whether the change is for the better. The argument, last I heard, continues. Flurys’ was established as a primarily English food joint, and over the years, Indian influences and spices have lent a distinctly unique flavor to the dishes. Especially sumptuous are the All-day-breakfast menus, waffles, and the mouth-watering chocolate brownie. Talking of food, Park Street reminds me of the India Hobby Centre, which used to and still sells the local Rollick Ice-cream. Probably one of the few places where you can get a decently-shareable ice-cream sundae for less than a hundred bucks, this was THE craze when we were in school, as Baskin and Robbins’ with the questionable thirty-one flavors were just about making inroads into the market.

As you walk along the road, it’s easy to miss arguably the best and probably also the smallest pub in Kolkata, Someplace Else. Cramped it is, but it has never played crappy music in the several times I have gone there, and a trip to Kolkata would be well and truly incomplete without a pilgrimage to this pub. It is simply amazing to sip on Long Island Iced Tea (the way it should be), sit back and relax, as Amyt Datta plays the blues like never before. Classy yet under-stated, restrained yet phenomenal, the man has an amazing way with the guitar, and has come to be, at least for me, eternally associated with Someplace Else. A small mention about the food: It is advisable to try the Chili Chicken Triangles, samosa-like things with chili chicken stuffing, awfully delectable.

A mention of Someplace Else would warrant a short note about Tantra, a discotheque, also within the premises of the Park Hotel, a five-star hotel which looks like a three-star; Tantra was one of the first dance-clubs, or discos to open in Kolkata, as it was still shrugging off the last dregs of Bengali Renaissance. Fashionably popular with the yuppie and wannabe crowd, it attracts particularly large crowds on weekends; my rather primitive dancing techniques have forced me to avoid this place at all costs.

Over the last few years or so, the Oxford Bookstore has become a place of enduring interest for me and a lot of my friends. Arguably, this store was established prior to the one in Churchgate, Mumbai; and this one is more spacious and homey. And of course, they have the quintessential cha-bar, overlooking the pavement of The Park, where you can sip a lightly flavored tea, flip the pages of Lonely Planet India, as you watch humanity trundle by. Come out of the bookstore, and the lingering aroma of the roll is bound to hit you like a bolt of lightning. A quick snack, no other place in India makes the roll like the roadside stalls in Kolkata. Period. The hygiene may leave a lot to be desired for the whiny-kind; but Hot Kati Rolls next to The Park, and Kusum’s further ahead are two places which are amongst the better joints in Kolkata. Advice: Try the double-mutton egg roll, it may look greasy; but it is a nicely fulfilling lunch.

Move up the street to the junction and you will find Music World across the street. This is one of the few places in the country which, at one point of time, used to boast of a collection for connoisseurs. Over the years, standards and tastes have undergone slow deterioration, and though the collection is not exactly what you would want; it still retains the charm and the nonchalance; and what better than walking around looking at the glossy CD covers, memories of adolescence as you take the CD off the rack, take a quick look at the back cover, and place it back on the rack with an innocent half-smile. This place seems to stand for a whole lot of memories, meetings with blind-dates, catching up with old flames, leisurely strolls up and down the street, always to end at the same street-corner. Right next to Music World along the lane is Peter Cat, famous for the Sizzlers and the absolutely wonderful Chelo Kebabs. Advice: On advice from a long-suffering individual similar to me, I tried the kebab platter the last time I was in Peter Cat, and it was yummy. Will add it to my not-to-miss list.

An eye-sore on the street is the newly-opened Barista. Call me an oldie, but I find the creamy tones of the coffee pub and the innocuous one-liners on its walls distinctly against the spirit of the place and what it symbolizes. But well, everyone has his secret peeves, and my pet-peeve is Barista. Even CCD (Café Coffee Day) right next to Peter Cat is a better place to sip a hot latte because of the laid back attitude. And of course, as if it wasn't enough, this place charges an exorbitant fifty bucks for a lousy cup of cappuccino.

Look across the street from Barista, and you would see a few other restaurants each vying for your attention. Moulin Rouge, with a tinge of the original French flavor, desperately trying to hold on to tradition, and failing miserably in the process; Oasis, with lousy service, but surprisingly good food; and of course, Bar-B-Q with a delectable Chinese spread, are all inviting places. But nothing beats the charm of passing off the afternoon, relaxing in the uncomfortable sofas of Olypub, sipping on cold beer, nibbling on your last bits of the wholesome beef steak; as you hear distant murmurs of excited loud-voiced conversation from the floor below. Olypub is a place steeped in history for all youngsters, they, like me always have a silly, interesting or a pleasing experience associated with the place.

Small footnote: A mention of Park Street is incomplete without due credit to the fat pimp who roams around Karnani Mansion; looking for ignorant horny strangers to proposition. Roam around aimlessly around Olypub for a few seconds, and you are bound to see this man – any time of the day, and the well-rehearsed conversation would ensue:

Fat man: Do you want something Saheb?
You (in this case, me): No.
Fat man (still persistent): I have college girls. Authentic.
You (adamant): No. I said I am not interested.
Fat man (persistent like hell): You want young, saheb? School-girls?
You (disgusted by now): No, I said no…

You finally realize its better to walk away, and do so...

That’s Park Street, my friends, in a nutshell, a place which, for a lot of Bengalis and people from Kolkata, symbolizes the essence of Kolkata. Unfortunately, for a lot of other people, Kolkata is painted with a decidedly ignorant brush; mostly equating poverty, homelessness and utter chaos with the city. The last time I was in the city, I was pleased to note that those are things of the past; and it pleased me to see the city changing with leaps and bounds. Most importantly, it shows that people are making conscious efforts to change mindsets, and needless to say, it does seem like its truly working…