THE GEM OF THE SILVER SCREEN (08.06.2019)

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June 2nd is the birthday of 2 legends of Tamil/Indian Cinema; one of these great men is my inspiration and my hero… this is my tribute to the great magician, Mr. Mani Ratnam…

 

THE GEM OF THE SILVER SCREEN

 

Mani Ratnam destroyed my life!

 

No, really! I mean it!

 

And, no, I’m not joining the bandwagon of the new batch of ‘Mani Bashers’ who seem to have suddenly cropped up.

Mani Ratnam destroyed my life because I love him so much! Because he means so much to me! He destroyed my life by seeping into every conscious and subconscious moment of it!

The number of relationships of mine that died painful deaths due to the inability to reach the pure bliss that is a Mani Ratnam romance! How can I be in a relationship that doesn’t have a divine A.R. Rahman tune playing in the background whenever we meet? No relationship makes the cut if we don’t look at each other in ultra slow motion for the first time and fall head over heels for each other with just that glance. There has to be a heavenly glow (or at least some nifty backlighting) emanating from both parties for the romance to be legit (definitely none coming from me, for sure!)! What’s the use of a kiss if the world around us doesn’t start to spin round and round? And when I finally overcame all my unrealistic expectations and found my true love, I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t a wee bit disappointed that when I finally tied the knot there was no ‘Mangalyam/O Humdum Suniyo Re’ playing instead of the old pujari’s mantras!

 

I hate you Mani Ratnam!!!

 

THE ‘MANI ROMANCE’TM

 

How does one man know so much about love???

 

Over the course of his sparkling career spanning 35 years and 26 incredible, fascinating films (even the less than great ones are, at the least, fascinating misfires) he has shown so many different shades of love. Each and every one of them rings true to someone or the other out there. Be it the puppy love of the flashback sequence of ‘Mouna Raagam’ or the early butterflies in the stomach leading to familiarity and irritability of ‘Alaipayuthe’/’Sakhi’ or the obsessive, borderline deranged and ultimately doomed love of ‘Dil Se..’ to the emotionally abusive but inescapable love of ‘Kaatru Veliyidai’/’Cheliyaa’.

 

The love stories aren’t always breezy; but they are always real.

 

I initially wanted to be cheeky and name my article ‘Aaytha Ezhuthu’ (The title of his 2004 movie which was named after the letter in the Tamil Alphabet that comprised of 3 dots forming a triangle) to highlight how Mani Sir, as we diehards fondly call him, has given to viewers the quintessential, zeitgeist defining love stories for three whole generations with ‘Mouna Raagam’, ‘Alaipayuthey’ and ‘OK Kanmani’.

Mani Romance

The innocent 80s college romance between Revathi and Karthik which they try, but fail to culminate in the logical conclusion of marriage; the more sexually charged, early 2000s romance between Madhavan and Shalini, where we were shown the intimacy and hardships post the bold step of marrying in secret; and more recently, Dulquer and Nithya’s story for millennials, which originates from a pure physical need and altogether shuns the institution of marriage (albeit embracing it in the end).

 

But then I thought to myself, what about the heart-wrenching love story in ‘Roja’? Or the barrier breaking love story in ‘Bombay’? Or even the brief but beautiful flashback romance between Madhavan and Simran in ‘Kannathil Muthamittal’/’Amrutha’? And then there are the 2 contrasting love stories of ‘Agni Natchathiram’/’Gharshana’ set to the some of the most romantic , foot tapping and sensual songs ever recorded (by none other than Ilaiyaraaja himself).

 

I realized it was a futile exercise to condense ‘Mani Romance’ into three movies. Yes, these were his 3 out and out love stories where the plot itself revolved around the romance. But the other films with varying themes including terrorism, adoption, terminal illness and even Tamil politics and film industry etc. still had some the best love stories ever put on screen!

Take ‘Yuva/Aaytha Ezhuthu’ itself. The movie revolved around three men from different strata of society and three contrasting mindsets and how their lives clash in the backdrop of Indian politics. A story teeming with technical and storytelling ideas still manages to give us a brilliant depiction of three different kinds of love stories – a microcosm of Mani Ratnam Romances.

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THE MASTER OF HUMAN EMOTION

 

At the heart of it all Mani Ratnam makes movies about relationships and human emotions above everything else.

‘Bombay’ was about the communalism and Mumbai riots of 1993. It was about the agony of our very social fabric being torn apart by blind hatred. Within the backdrop of this story was a more personal adventure of two brothers getting separated from their parents and each other amidst the chaos. A tale of 2 fathers overcoming their staunch religious prejudices to reconcile with their children and grandchildren.

‘Kannathil Muthamittal’ and ‘Anjali’, one a story of an adopted girl travelling to war-torn Sri Lanka to find her birth mother and the other the story of a mentally stunted girl and her struggle to fit into a normal family and community, show us the torment of 2 doting mothers trying to win the love and appreciation of a daughter.

‘Iruvar’, a political, meta masterpiece, amidst all its technical bravado and storytelling genius is fundamentally a story of 2 close friends driven apart by ambition and power.

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The pivotal moments of Mani Ratnam’s films are character and emotion driven rather than plot driven (more-so in his recent movies, where he seems to be getting even more abstract) and that’s what sets him apart! We have felt these same feelings some time in our own lives and reacted similarly and made the same decisions; that’s why we connect so deeply to his films.

His characters are always complex and so REAL! The good guys have shades of grey and the bad guys have shades of grey too. Nobody is pure black or white.

We always leave the theatre FEELING something; love, anger, pride, grief, inspiration… something.

He can as easily bring a smile to your lips as he can a lump in the throat! A ‘Thiruda Thiruda’ vs an ‘Anjali’ (and many a time within the same movie).

 

 

THE MANI-ISMS

 

As is evident I adore Mani Ratnam. The man has given so many reasons to rejoice over the last quarter decade whenever his movies hit the screens. Each and every movie of his has some of his signature tropes that we fans love to look out for each time.

The old women and the kids who pepper the frames in the superbly orchestrated celebration sequences; unapologetically urban stories and characters (which his disciple Gautham Menon emulates so well too); young, mischievous heroes and spunky, independent heroines; themes of language as a barrier and a unifier (a signature of my other favourite director from across the sea, Mr. Spielberg); trains and buses galore (he says it’s a subconscious decision, probably mirroring the protagonists’ emotional journeys in his films); and romance in coffee shops (how the heck did he know how couples would meet up for coffee all the way back in 1983???).

 

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All aboard the Mani Express

 

Coffee with Mani
Coffee with Mani

 

EVERY FRAME A PAINTING

 

Though Mani Ratnam’s films are very famous for the dialogue (which I’ll allude to in a bit) he is as great a visual filmmaker as you can get! Film is, and should be, a purely visual medium, with dialogue complementing the visuals rather than taking centre stage. Most filmmakers make the cardinal mistake of putting two people in a frame and just keeping them talking.

Mani has conjured some of the most iconic and breath-taking frames in Indian films!

He showcases his protagonists’ inner turmoil and jubilations through his lens and uses colour palettes and lighting to accentuate the same beautifully!

He stages his scenes so meticulously, changing the characters position and focus to depict shifts of power between them.

He has become famous for his stunning silhouette shots and quirky camera work and his collaborations with P.C. Sreeram in particular have become stuff of legend.

His keen eye for cinematography is echoed in the quality of cameramen he has worked with – for his very first film ever – ‘Pallavi Anu Pallavi’ (all the way back in 1983) – he got renowned director Balu Mahendra to take over behind the camera.

He has gotten beautiful frames with master cameramen like P.C. Sreeram, Balu Mahendra, Santosh Sivan, Rajiv Menon, Ravi K. Chandran and Ravi Varman.

 

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P.C. Sreeram
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Santosh Sivan
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Rajiv Menon
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Ravi K. Chandran
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Ravi Varman

 

 

The genius of Mani Ratnam can be seen in his mastery over stunning, wide, panoramic shots and at the same time his close-up framing of the human face, a landscape on its own!

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And this is our reverent attempt to emulate a Mani Ratnam silhouette shot…

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SYMPHONIES FOR THE SOUL

 

Music… music in a Mani Ratnam film! Getting goosebumps just thinking about it.

Put on your headphones and shut your eyes… play ‘Dil Se’ (the title song) and just lose yourself… hear the scintillating bass guitar kickstart the song, with bare minimum percussion; experience the feeling as each layer of music gets added like a mellifluous trifle pudding and culminating in Rahman’s greatest weapon, his own voice. Now remember the visuals of the song. Shah Rukh and a luminous Manisha Koirala running hand in hand amidst the ruins of battle-torn Kashmir… then, cut to a close-up of his face framed behind an angry, red flame, not only highlighting the violence of war but his burning passion for her! It’s just sheer magic! And it encapsulates Mani Ratnam’s whole career!

The way he marries his images with music is legendary!

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And the interesting part is he’s only ever required 2 men to deliver him the stunning music he needs. Maestros Ilaiyaraaja and A.R. Rahman.

His 2 trump cards.

In my life there’s no BC and AD for defining a place in time… it’s only MI and MR – the Mani-Ilaiyaraaja era and the Mani-Rahman era. Both mesmerising in their own way. Not just the songs but the background scores they have given to his movies too!

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Their songs echo the pathos and yearning in the characters – the heart-wrenching wails of the female singers in ‘Priya Priya’ from ‘Geethanjali’, ‘Naa Cheli Rojave’ from ‘Roja’ and ‘Satrangi’ from ‘Dil Se..’ haunt you and chill to the bone! The first, an ode to their doomed love, the second, a hypnotic reminder to a husband of his far-away wife as he pines to see her again, the third a seductive prelude to a psychedelic journey through the 7 stages of lust, love and death!

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My most repeated playlist in my iPod (to the chagrin of all around me) has always been my Mani Ratnam playlist with the songs and background scores of all his movies sorted in order of release and playing on shuffle mode.

 

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And then there’s A.R.Rahman’s ‘Dil Se..’ – in my opinion the single greatest album of music ever created! But that’s a story for another day…

 

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THE RHYTHM OF WORDS

 

“Are you a virgin?” these words uttered by the nubile Preity Zinta in her debut role in ‘Dil Se..’ to Shah Rukh will always be remembered as a pure Mani moment. Her fearlessness and unabashed demeanour sums up most of his heroines.

 

Mani is famous for the staccato dialogues spewed by his characters. Lots is said by his characters in very few words, even more when they are completely silent. Though I could never enjoy the genius of the legendary writer Sujatha in his Tamil films (due to my inability to understand Tamil), the basic emotion and thought usually does come through in the Telugu dubbed versions.

The rat-a-tat repartee, especially in the flirting scenes of his movies, does so in the rhythm of a tommy gun and are delightful to listen to.

 

Even the lyrics in his songs, usually by the revered Vairamuthu, are on a different level; unfortunately the effect of these is usually lost in translation into Telugu (although Sirivennela Seetharam Shastry gaaru has been doing a great job of it in his recent movies).

 

 

THE LEGACY

 

How do we talk about the man who’s so precious to the film industry that his name AND surname both mean ‘Precious Stone’ or ‘Gem’???

Let’s just run through his filmography –

 

  1. Pallavi Anu Pallavi (1983)
  2. Unaru (1984)
  3. Pagal Nilavu (1985)
  4. Idaya Kovil (1985)
  5. Mouna Raagam (1986)
  6. Nayakan/Nayakudu (1987)
  7. Agni Natchathiram/Gharshana (1988)
  8. Geethanjali (1989)
  9. Anjali (1990)
  10. Thalapathi/Dalapathi (1991)
  11. Roja (1992)
  12. Thiruda Thiruda/Donga Donga (1993)
  13. Bombay (1995)
  14. Iruvar/Iddaru (1997)
  15. Dil Se.. (1998)
  16. Alaipayuthey/Sakhi (2000)
  17. Kannathil Muthamittal/Amrutha (2002)
  18. Yuva (2004)
  19. Aaytha Ezhuthu/Yuva (2004)
  20. Guru (2007)
  21. Raavan (2010)
  22. Raavanan/Villain (2010)
  23. Kadal/Kadali (2013)
  24. OK Kanmani/OK Bangaaram (2015)
  25. Kaatru Veliyidai/Cheliyaa (2017)
  26. Chekka Chivantha Vaanam/Nawab (2018)

 

What a staggering body of work!

Many people may not be familiar with the 1st 4 movies in the list but from ‘Mouna Raagam’ onwards all the way up till ‘Guru’ each and every movie can be called a bonafide classic depending on who you ask.

 

At least 12 of these 16 masterpieces were hailed as instant classics and are still remembered as the defining films of their times. The other 4 may have had lukewarm receptions back then, but have grown into cult classics over the years.

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‘Thalapathi’ can easily be ranked as Superstar Rajinikanth’s best ‘acting’ performance till date.

And as for his other Gangster masterpiece – ‘Nayakan’ – it redefined how films were made in Tamil Nadu and even how they were watched by audiences. Numerous film-makers including Gautham Menon were inspired by this film to make movies themselves. It’s a shame Mani and Kamal Haasan haven’t worked together again since, after creating such magic onscreen.

 

 

 

‘Nayakan’ was so monumental when it released that it was voted as one of the top 100 movies of all time (worldwide) by Time Magazine, amongst other accolades.

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One of the greatest legacies of Mani Ratnam is the tremendous performances he coaxes out of his actors. With someone like a Kamal, Mamooty or Mohanlal, it’s a given, but even with debutantes like Arvind Swamy and Madhavan and average actors like Prabhu and Madhoo, he has gotten brilliant performances. The often (unfairly) derided Abhishek Bachchan has given 2 of his most riveting performances under Mani – the rough Lallan in ‘Yuva’ and his magnificent turn as Gurukanth Desai in the epic ‘Guru’.

There have been a few missteps like Lakshmi Manchu and Goutham Karthik in ‘Kadal’ and Abhishek himself in ‘Raavan’ (more glaring when you compare it to Vikram’s superior performance in ‘Raavanan’), but they are few and far between.

 

The best part of Mani Ratnam’s films is that in spite of their shining calibre they never shy away from being pure ‘entertainment’! He hates the notion of having ‘art’ films and ‘masala’ films as 2 separate entities. He had (at least till the last decade) somehow consistently found that alchemist’s secret to creating pure, quality, high-brow entertainment.

 

But, I guess all love stories have to come to an end.

Unfortunately, post ‘Guru’ his films have been hit and miss with the critics and the audience.

 

‘Raavanan’ onwards is a very difficult time to defend him as well.

Although I would agree that these films aren’t as immediately likeable as his previous output, even in his biggest failures I can see the absolute commitment and passion in every frame unlike the other south Indian maverick Mr. Ram Gopal Varma, who seems to be taking immense pleasure In watching his old fans (me included) shudder and squirm as each new movie of his takes him further and further away from his heyday.

 

But it this period of films where my opinion of Mani’s films varies greatly with the general consensus. The one person who seems to have almost the same feelings as me towards these post-‘Guru’ films is my favourite film critic                                                       anWhatsApp Image 2019-06-07 at 1.26.57 PM (2)d writer Bharadwaj Rangan. His love for Mani Ratnam is infectious, but the beauty is he doesn’t just sing paeans to the maverick director but analyses his movies and scenes and dialogues so beautifully and has a wonderful way with words. His 3 part interview with Mani Ratnam is fantastic and one of my favourite books on films and filmmaking is his book ‘Conversations with Mani Ratnam’. For fans of Mani Ratnam this is the Bible and the Holy Quran.

We both feel that ‘Raavan’ and ‘Kadal’, though deeply flawed, are definitely not the creative disasters they were made out to be!

We both feel that ‘Kaatru Veliyidai’ is a misunderstood masterpiece (me a little more enthusiastically) and I feel that, like ‘Dil Se..’, it will one day attain the status of a cult classic.

 

And the biggest paradox is that the one recent film that was appreciated by one and all (critics as well as at the box office ) – ‘Chekka Chivantha Vaanam’/’Nawab’ – was considered by both of us as quite a let-down, where cool cinematography, acting and music overpowered any kind of emotional resonance (his usual stock-in-trade). When you compare this film to his earlier gangster epics like ‘Thalapathi’ and ‘Nayakan’ it rings truly hollow. Even his pre-‘Mouna Raagam’ gangster flick ‘Pagal Nilavu’ has some pretty good emotional stakes between a don and his protégé, whereas CCV somehow couldn’t muster the same in spite of being a war amongst family.

But I’m not complaining, when the audience, who had recently turned their back on the master, seem to have embraced him again!

 

Rest-assured Mani Ratnam will be back!

 

MANI AND ME

 

What’s the best way to end a eulogy of a man whose films are so personal? To get personal!

My journey with Mani Ratnam; how important he has been in my life!

 

1988 – the first movie I ever watched in my life – at the age of just 6 months – ‘Gharshana’ (thanks to my parents for giving me this awesome distinction)

 

1992 – the earliest movie that I ‘REMEMBER’ watching in the theatre – ‘Roja’. This and ‘Jurassic Park’ the next year are so clearly etched in my mind even to this day. Not just the movies themselves but the theatre I watched them in and my exact feelings while watching them. I was only 4 years old but I still remember the awe and relief I felt when Arvind Swamy finally crosses over that bridge to reach Madhoo!

 

The Mid 90s –watching ‘Anjali’ on TV (obviously not knowing who directed it, or even who a director is) and being equally drawn to it and at the same time disturbed by it! The movie haunted me for years and made me very sad whenever I thought about it! Any movie that can do that to you has to be something special!

 

1998 – Watching ‘Dil Se..’ in the theatre in England and absolutely HATING it… but thinking of it almost every day afterwards. It disturbed me so much! It was only 18 years later, when I watched it again that I realised how awesome and intentionally discomforting this movie is!

 

2000 – Driving past a poster of ‘Sakhi’ and my Dad telling me that this was a ‘Mani Ratnam Movie’ and how his movies were always so good! Basically the first time I learnt of the brand of ‘Mani Ratnam’.

 

2004 – Watching ‘Yuva’ in the theatres 5 times in the

WhatsApp Image 2019-06-07 at 1.26.56 PMfirst 2 weeks itself and it becoming my favourite Hindi movie of all time! ‘Yuva’ (along with ‘The Matrix’) was also my first ever DVD and it has been watched on my home theatre system at least 20 times to date (no exaggeration)

 

 

 

2005 – Getting an acting break in a movie – ‘Amma Cheppindi’ –  and having the opportunity of playing the role of the son of Suhasini gaaru – Mani Ratnam’s actress wife.

[watch –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amVRPqEDZJ0 ]

Suhasini

2007 – Watching ‘Guru’ in ‘Sensation Theatre’ and being electrified by it. Still hadn’t made the connection that I was watching something by someone who would become my all-time favourite!

 

2007 – Finally losing the last shreds of hope I had left in Ram Gopal Varma gaaru’s career (‘RGV ki Aag’ was the last straw) and anointing Mani Ratnam as my new favourite.

 

2010 – Watching ‘Raavan’ in ‘Prasads Theatre’ and DESPISING it. Once again, it took me my second viewing years later to see the many merits of it. Also caught ‘Villain’ (‘Raavanan’) and found it far more enjoyable.

 

2015 – Watching ‘OK Bangaaram’ and enjoying the wave of ‘Mani is Back’ reviews

 

2016 – Finally decided to trace down each and every movie he ever made and completed the ‘Mani Ratnam Marathon’ watching every movie in the order of release over one blissful month. This included making my Malayali driver John sit with me one evening so he can translate every line of Mani’s only Malayalam film ‘Unaru’.

With each movie screening my favourite of his films would change!

Mid 2016 – Started dating my future wife – our favourite songs on our playlist – ‘Kaay Love Chedugudu’ from ‘Sakhi’ and ‘Hamsaro’ from ‘Cheliyaa’

 

December 2016 – Celebrated our wedding with a Mani Ratnam themed Sangeeth

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCYCAn-vrYE ]

 

25th March 2017 – On my birthday my wife gave me the greatest gift I could have ever asked for. She surprised me with this –  [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyLu3-ngB8w ]

 

She whisked me away to Chennai where she had secretly orchestrated a meeting with him as he was re-recording for ‘Kaatru Veliyidai’ at A.R. Rahman’s studio.

The best day of my life!!!

 

April 2017 – Watched ‘Cheliyaa’ (‘Kaatru Veliyidai’) with my wife – our first Mani Ratnam movie together

 

December 25th 2017 – Recreated ‘Hamsaro’/’Azhagiye’ with my friends as an anniversary surprise for my wife  [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCZ2i1J3FZk ]

 

2018 – Watched ‘Nawab’ in theatres – slightly disappointed but happy to have a hit in the kitty

 

2019 – Waiting for many more Magical Mani Moments!

 

 

Mani Sir! Thank you for all the 70mm memories… keep them coming!!!

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SANSKAAR WARS or THIPPURA MEESAM!!! PART 2: THE CONCLUSION (17.05.2017)

Nandi Anna HouseHe came, he saw, he conquered!!! ‘Baahubali 2: The Conclusion’ has just eviscerated all records held by Indian movies including biggies like Dangal, PK and Bajrangi Bhaijaan! As the records continue to fall and as the coffers continue to fill this is my tribute to Rajamouli and his incredible creation…

SANSKAAR WARS

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THIPPURA MEESAM!!! PART 2: THE CONCLUSION

[WARNING: SPOILERS for ‘Baahubali Part 2: The Conclusion’ ahead – but everyone and their grandmother has seen it by now!]

 

Do we finally have our very own ‘Star Wars’?

 

The year is 2017 and India, a nation more enamoured with movies than any other in the world, is experiencing what one can only describe as a silver screen phenomenon! A phenomenon that will define cinema in the subcontinent for decades to come. A movie that will be a cultural milestone along with history defining classics like ‘Mughal-E-Azam’, ‘Sholay’, ‘DDLJ’, ‘Maya Bazaar’ and ‘Lagaan’. Old grandparents will excitedly reminisce with each other where and with whom they first watched ‘Baahubali Part 2: The Conclusion’ as their grandchildren listen on, intrigued.

We have always had our blockbusters. We’ve had movies that have made a dent in the foreign box office too. Over the last 15 to 20 years movies from the Bollywood elite, SRK, Salman, Hrithik, Aamir and co. have managed to break into the top 15 lists of the US and UK box office charts and have managed to hover around in that bracket. But this time is different!

Take in this bit of information: ‘Baahubali 2’ was at number 3 at the US box office the week it released! It released in the same weekend as a movie starring box office legend Tom Hanks and upcoming box office queen Emma Watson (fresh off her billion dollar success story – ‘Beauty and the Beast’) and ‘Baahubali’ had completely devoured its competition. ‘The Circle’’s collections aren’t even close to what the Indian behemoth has collected!

But let’s take a closer look! What else differentiates this juggernaut of a movie from those that have come before it? First of all, there’s no globally recognised star in sight! No Khan, no Khiladi, no Roshan!

Most importantly, the ‘ollywood’ from where it hails doesn’t start with an ‘H’ or even a ‘B’!!! It starts with a bold, proud, moustache twirling, thigh slapping ‘T’!

Yes! There are movies from India that originate from places other than Mumbai! In fact the South Indian film industries are far more prolific than their Hindi cousin. Bollywood has recently started to sit up and take notice but now it is time for the world to know about a beautiful language called Telugu!

Hopefully, now, after the impact the movie has made, I won’t be asked by ignorant morons, when I say I’m from Hyderabad, whether I speak “Mallu” or “Madrasi”! Hopefully, after years of living in a shell of self entitlement people up North (not all of them, mind you) will actually take a closer look at the triangular part of our country’s map that exists below Maharashtra! Hopefully now they’ll understand that we are 5 large states with 5 vibrant capital cities speaking 4 distinct languages and harbouring brilliant minds, ethereal beauties, brilliant sportsmen, world class medical facilities, top notch infrastructure and definitely – fantastic artistes!

All this thanks to our very own George Lucas/Steven Spielberg – S.S. Rajamouli. IMG_9271Our guy also sports that ultimate prerequisite to enter into the pantheon of great directors – a full blown beard! But not a perfectly groomed and trimmed Hollywood one like messrs Lucas and Spielberg, Coppola and De Palma, but a wild, manly Tollywood one! One that embraces the earthiness and raw power of the Telugu native!

Now into its 3rd week of release the juggernaut that is ‘Baahubali 2’ refuses to slow down and has smashed every record in its path to smithereens, earning an unprecedented Rs1400 crores (and counting) at the box office and surpassing everything that has ever come before!

 

So, have we, exactly 40 years after the release of the original ‘Star Wars’ (May 1977), finally gotten our own?

star wars saga

 

Bahubali_1_2_Mix_Poster

I don’t want to belittle the sheer magnificence of ‘Baahubali’ by comparing it with the space epic or Rajamouli himself by comparing him to Lucas. I make this comparison because like ‘Star Wars’, ‘Baahubali’ is now more than just a movie. It has grown into a religion. What separates these two movies from other blockbusters is their tremendous appeal to that oft forgotten demographic – children!

Last week I was picking up the customary bribe ice cream for the justifiably upset wife when I overheard something that brought a smile to my face. A little girl, hardly 5 years of age, was walking around the place and flexing her nonexistent biceps and muttering “Baahubali; Baahubali!” while pretending to cut down her imaginary foe with her imaginary sword! What a wonderful sight it was! All I have heard from people for the last month, ever since the brilliant trailer dropped, was that one name: “Baahubali”. But this was a little child whose imagination was stoked by the escapades on the large screen! I had never seen a child so young enact scenes from a Telugu movie like that before. That’s when I made the ‘Star Wars’ connection thinking of how the kids of 1977 must have been blown away and turned ‘Star Wars’ into the cultural force it is today!

Which goes to prove that despite ‘Baahubali’’s technical brilliance, sumptuous cinematography, amazing characters, superb screenplay, tantalising background score, mindblowing graphics and brilliant acting the makers paid attention to the most important factor of all – it’s a whole bloody lot of fun!!!

 

Like ‘Star Wars’ before it, ‘Baahubali – The Beginning’ had a whole lot riding on it at the time of release. It was at the time one of the most expensive Telugu films made and failure at the box office would have meant crores of loss. ‘Star Wars’ was also made on a relatively large budget for a little known director and failure back then would have meant the end of his filmmaking career. But there was a stark difference. Although ‘Star Wars’ had the disadvantage of having an almost unknown George Lucas at the helm (making the movie a huge financial risk) that was what worked to its advantage – absolutely no expectations. On the other hand Rajamouli was already a film industry legend and was worshipped by the Telugu moviegoers after giving an unprecedented 9 consecutive bona fide hits. Expectations were not just sky high, but space high for his latest magnum opus! It may sound like a great problem to have but ask Mr. Rajnikanth over the last few years – expectations can be your worst enemy! But Rajamouli, being the rockstar that he is, not only reached the expectations of the masses but easily outstripped them. Expectations were just a beautiful waterfall that he would climb to reach his goal! Oka Gamyam!!!

Other similarities between the two epics are the industry defining special effects, the iconic background score (more on that in a bit), a second part of the franchise exceeding the lofty standards set by the first and memorable characters who will be enshrined in the memories of movie goers for decades to come! Who doesn’t know about Yoda, Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader??? Just the same way, the names Baahubali, Bhallala Deva, Sivagami, Kattappa and now, Devasena will forever be used as nicknames for people having various characteristics matching the characters’ on screen!

The most obvious connection between ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Baahubali’ is the juxtaposition of an intense family saga with some magnificent, large scale wars which propel the story and in which the conflicts finally culminate! It is the genre which is telling of the industry to which each saga belongs. ‘Star Wars’ is from Hollywood’s favourite genre – Science Fiction, and ‘Baahubali’ embraces the rich cultural history of India by being of the period, fantasy genre. That is why I wanted to name this article ‘Sanskaar Wars’ – both as an homage to ‘Star Wars’ and due to the basic conflict at the heart of the storm; “Sanskaar” or Moral Values! Like the great epics of India’s history the ‘Baahubali’ War is waged over the injustice meted out to a woman (Sita, Draupadi and here, Devasena) and on the basis of the protagonists’ beliefs and faith in their own versions of Sanskaar. Bhalla believes that he is the true heir to the throne of Mahishmati and will stop at nothing to get what he feels is rightfully his. Sivagami, who is high and noble, lets her sense of self-righteousness shroud her better judgement and allows herself to get swayed by the poisonous words of her husband and her older son. Amarendra Baahubali takes the teachings of his mother, who is a God to him, as his holy book and doesn’t hesitate to oppose even her to uphold the values she taught him. Devasena is a livewire, a wonderfully written woman character, who, along with Sivagami, is a rare wonder to behold on the female-barren lands of Indian cinema. She believes, from her very first scene to her last, in her self-worth and will not mince words to anyone who deprives her of that! And then we come to the most conflicted, layered and doomed character of the series – Kattappa! Kattappa is the heart of these films! His character is so sad because of his unwavering faith and adherence to his purpose on earth. Like Bheeshma, he is bound by a vow which was taken hundreds of years ago and like Karna he is cursed to take up arms against his own!

The references to ‘Mahabharat’ and ‘Ramayana’ are evident in the ‘Baahubali’ films and make it all the richer! A rightful heir to the throne of a kingdom having to relinquish his title to a younger brother due to a physical disability; the resentment passing on to the next generstion; a prince and his wife being banished from the kingdom along with the proxy brother etc.

 

But now let’s move on to the film itself! I have gushed about all things Rajamouli up till ‘Baahubali Part 1: The Beginning’ in my previous article (Thippura Meesam) in which I encapsulated his whole career in a few pages, highlighting the most memorable scenes from each movie! But the sheer magnificence of ‘Part 2’ is so much that I had to dedicate this whole article to it!

We can all agree that Rajamouli is a master of elevating individual scenes to hair rousing levels (‘Chatrapati’ interval scene man!!!!)! But almost every minute of ‘Part 2’ does this! I’ve already watched the movie twice (would’ve watched more but even being Rajamouli’s nephew couldn’t get me tickets because of the sold out shows) and each time my goosebumps had goosebumps in almost every scene!

Right from the get go!

The ‘Oka Praanam’ song superbly sums up the first movie and the ‘Avengers’-esque sculptures of scenes from ‘The Beginning’ are mesmerising! What a way to refresh our memories of the lead up to ‘The Conclusion’ without delving into unnecessary exposition and dialogue!

The opening scene and Prabhas’ entry as Amarendra Baahubali gets us into the right mood straight away! The mother-son relationship is shown beautifully and the smile Sivagami gives Baahubali when he saves the day again is just awesome! Every son in the world would want to see that look of pride and affection in their mother’s eyes for sure!

The ‘Saahore Baahubali’ song gets the adrenaline pumping immediately and it is heartening to be shown glimpses of the final battle of ‘Part 1’ as well. The best lyrics (apart from the awesome ‘Hey Sa, Rudra Sa’… chorus) is the perfect summation of Amarendra’s character – “Antha maha baludaina, Amma vodi pasivaade!” – beautiful.

The escapades of Kattappa with Baahubali on their travels is also fun to watch as we are fully intrigued by Kattappas character in ‘Part 1’ but we finally get to see his interactions with his friend in full force. The banter between them is great and the fight scenes where they throw weapons o each other are real fun! The only slight annoyance is the shtick of Kattappa gets a little too much after a while and Sathyaraj tends to go a little overboard.

Then comes along Devasena! What a wonderfully written woman character. When we thought Rajamouli had given us one of the best female characters in Telugu cinema with Sivagami, along comes this feisty one! She is electric and Anushka pulls of the character with élan! Her response to Sivagami’s ‘gift’ of ‘choosing’ her to marry her son is perfect! Even now women in India are made to believe that they should be grateful to be chosen to be whisked away from their homes to some strange man’s bedroom and here we have a princess of hundreds of years ago completely giving the people around her a lesson or two in equality!

Even her response to Baahubali that she is willing to come with him as a prisoner in bonds of love but will never come as a prisoner on the words of his mother is excellent!

 

A scene of sheer poetry is during the battle in the kingdom of Kuntala Raajyam. Devasena, who is a competent warrior, has never managed to master firing three arrows at once. She is assaulted by multiple enemies in the corridor of the palace and is picking them off one by one with her bow and arrows but is clearly outnumbered. In swoops Baahubali, who till now has been masquerading as a coward. He immediately starts firing salvo after salvo at the enemy and leaves Devasena stunned. Mid-battle he quickly teaches her what she has been doing wrong in her technique and she immediately masters the triple arrow shot! Next what we see is mesmerising. The two potential lovers and adept archers writhe around each other’s bodies like snakes and dispatch the foe 6 arrows at a time. It culminates in a wonderful, erotic beat where Baahubali ditches his bow, wraps his arm around Devasena and both of them fire 6 arrows from the same bowstring, each one hitting its mark as the camera zooms along with them! What a beautiful concoction of romance and violence!

What a vision you must possess to conceive of such a scene!

Once back in the vast courtroom of the Mahishmati another great piece of drama unfolds! There is a lot of emotion and shifting of power happening in this scene. All the major stakeholders are present. Devasena immediately apologises to Sivagami for her scathing response to the marriage proposal. Sivagami, pleased with the apology tells her that “Ee Sivagami kodalaki aa mathram ahankaaram, alankaarame!” a brilliant dialogue summing up both of these fiery queens! Amarendra, caught in the eternal conflict between mother and wife is relieved to see a thawing of the ice. Bijjaladeva and Bhalla look on resentfully. Sivagami asks Devasena to come and take her place next to her husband and she innocently moves towards Amarendra. Sivagami screams at her asking her what she is doing and Devasena tells her she is going to her chosen suitor. Sivagami  is aghast at this piece of information and Bijjal starts to get up to protest. The beauty of this scene is the shot of Bhalla holding him back by tightening the grip on his shoulder. He senses that things are about to get out of hand and waits his turn. Kattappa realising his folly comes forward to take the blame for the confusion but Sivagami casts him aside, seething with anger! At this moment Devasena, being the strong woman that she is, doesn’t refrain from giving everyone a piece of her mind, saying she has every right to choose her own husband and goes on to ridicule Sivagami’s knowledge of the workings of the Khsatriya code! Suddenly the courtroom has been turned into an arena where a battle of egos is at play! This moment is a turning point in the saga as it is the first time we see the powerful Sivagami being dressed down by someone else. Baahubali, warrior supreme, vanquisher of armies and destroyer of evil, now has to fight the greatest battle of his life! Does he remain a mute spectator as the woman he vows to protect is verbally assaulted for no fault of her own or does he stand up and speak against the woman who gave him unconditional love and life? He remembers his mother’s lessons to him when he was a child and makes his decision. He tells Sivagami “Amma! Thappu chesavu!” These words pierce Sivagami’s heart like a ragged knife and Rajamouli unleashes a perfect visual of Bhalla’s grip on Bijjal’s shoulder releasing; unleashing his Shakuni-like father to pounce on the situation like a venomous snake!

The scene culminates in Sivagami announcing that Bhallaladeva, not Baahubali, will be the king of Mahishmati and everyone in the courtroom as well as the movie theatre are dumbfounded!

In a matter of 5 minutes and in the confines of a single courtroom Rajamouli unleashes cinematic magic!

And we haven’t even reached the interval yet!!!

As we are still reeling from the scene we are given the most amazing spectacle seen on the big screen in a long time! The swearing-in of the Bhalla as king and Baahubali as the army’s commander-in-chief! This is a scene which could have been played straight but Rajamouli being Rajamouli cranks it up to 11! As Bhalla is sworn in itself we are given a great visual treat but when Baahubali comes forward for his swearing-in the atmosphere is electric! Horses rear onto their hind legs, elephants stamp and kneel in reverence, soldiers clash their swords to their shields and pound their spears into the ground and the junta goes berserk, screaming “Baahubali, Baahubali” like the chants of “Sachin” on the verge of a century to the power of 10! This is the quintessential Rajamaouli Interval Bang!

 

Post interval another brilliant scene takes place in the fateful courtroom! My favourite scene of all! Devasena has chopped off the new army chief’s fingers for trying to touch her and is chained in front of the whole court. She is being told off by the new king Bhalla; and then enters the man himself! As Baahubali enters the people look on in hope and everyone knows things are about to get real! He prowls behind the army chief like a tiger while listening to Devasena’s story. When she finishes, he admonishes her for her mistake. She thinks he has sided with the rest of them; we think he is going to cut off the general’s hand instead; he, in one swift flick of his sword severs the man’s head!!! Brutal! Sublime!

 

Coming to the resolution of the most asked question of the last 3 years – “Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali???”. The reveal isn’t as earth shattering as built up but very logical and straightforward. Any other movie would have collapsed under the overwhelming expectations of that reveal but this movie is soooo good on so many levels that the scene plays out organically as a coherent part of the story albeit with a mesmerising visual; in silhouette against a raging fire. Rana goes absolutely unhinged in the scene after the betrayal, his eyes burning with rage and satisfaction as he hacks away at his dead brother’s corpse! An absolutely chilling and by far the best performance in the saga!!!

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The visual flair of Rajamouli comes to fore in multiple scenes especially the close shot of Kattappa’s treacherous sword dripping with the blood of his hero; the low angle shot of Shivudu/Mahendra Baahubali coming into his own in his Mahishmati armour as the people try to touch him, like he is a messiah as Keeravani pumps out some crazy chants to match the visual; Sivagami holding up the baby Mahendra to the crowd below the palace and announcing him as king (a la The Lion King); the final battle royale between Mahendra and his evil uncle which slows down to ultra slow motion as they both are ready to launch their spears at each other! Magical!

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One small aspect I felt would’ve made the film even more kickass is if Sudeep’s character from ‘Part 1’ somehow is summoned to fight alongside Kattappa and Shivudu’s army; something akin to the scenes in ‘Lord of The Rings’ where the allied army reaches the battlefield just in time to support the numerically weaker good guys!

 

I think it is time to thank the many many people who toiled day in and day out to bring this magic to the silver screen over the last 5 years! The most obvious people are the actors! Each and every one of them is superb; Sathyaraj, Nasser, Tamannah, Anushka, Adivi Shesh and Subba Raju are excellent. Prabhas is awesome, even better than he was in ‘Part 1’; he shows subtle differences in his portrayals of father and son Baahubalis. Ramya Krishna is dependably fiery in ‘Part 1’ and perfect as the conflicted mother in ‘Part 2’. But for me, as I said before, the absolute star is Rana as Bhallala Deva! What a tour de force from my favourite Telugu actor’s nephew! It’s in the genes I guess!!!

No movie can achieve greatness without starting out strong on paper! Full credit to Vijayendra Prasad gaaru for writing such a powerful script and gifting it to his visionary son to bring to life!

Then there are the special effects teams! What they have achieved with these movies is unprecedented and they deserve as much appreciation as any of the major technicians!

Cinematographer Senthil has reached Hollywood levels of finesse and visual flair! His camera work is extraordinary!

All the above, as well as hundreds more have now become the pride of India!

Now I come to some people who are not only the pride of the nation but of our family! It is heartening to see Rama Attha (Rajamouli’s wife; costumes, amongst other things), Valli Attha (Keeravani’s wife; line manager), Karthikeya (Rama and Rajamouli’s son; assistant director and 2nd unit director) and Bhairava (Keeravani and Valli’s son and lead singer for ‘Dandaalayya’ and ‘Oka Praanam’) each get the praises that they have always deserved by standing by Rajamouli and being his pillars of support!

 

The unsung hero of the movie is the one whose songs we always sing!!! Keeravani, the silent genius! The one who marries the perfect visual cues with the perfect notes and chords. The one who knows when to let the scene play out in silence and when the chants need to kick in! The one whose crescendos sweep you away like a tsunami! Keer Maama! Please do not retire as you once threatened to do! Do not leave the Telugu music industry in these times of darkness (and Thaman S.!!!) We need you and your sublime melodies!

 

And finally, the man of the moment himself!!! S.S. Rajamouli to his new fans around the world; Rajamouli to his long term fans in the Telugu speaking states; Jakkanna to his friends in the industry; Nandi to his family and Nandi Anna to me!

A man who has achieved so much but still strives to raise the bar each and every time!

A man who I have never seen refuse a selfie to his thousands of fans!

A man who puts his heart into anything he does and who is always there when the family needs him; who dances his heart out at his nephews’ weddings as if it were an important scene in his magnum opus!

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A man whom I have had the privilege of knowing before, during the rise of and at the height of his stardom (the same man throughout).

A man whom I have had the privilege of being directed by in a tiny role in his ‘Eega’!

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A man who can make a movie on the tiniest themes like a fly and the grandest epics like ‘Baahubali’ with the same amount of passion and eye for detail!

Nandi Anna!!! Keep them coming!!!

Neeku Dandaalayya!!!! _/\_ _/\_ _/\_

FREE AT LAST (04.04.2017)

IMG-20170403-WA0006Sometimes the best way to show someone we love them is by letting go…

FREE AT LAST

 

What can be more comforting than the unconditional love of a grandparent?

Even our parents have limits to their affection towards us because of their thankless duty of making sure we turn out as good human beings. But with the grandparents we can be what we want to be and know that they’ll still look at us as if the sun shines out of our behinds (to quote J.K. Simmons from the movie ‘Juno’).

Those who haven’t had the opportunity to interact with their parents’ parents are most unfortunate. There’s nowhere else you’d feel that there really is no other person like you in the world.

3 days ago, on the 1st of April 2017 my paternal grandmother or Nayanamma, as we lovingly called her, played her last April Fool’s joke on us. We had admitted her in the hospital a few days prior due to aspiration of her food and after a couple of days on the ventilator we decided to bring her home and let her be in peace. Due to the solid sedation she had from the opioid patch we had given her she was fast asleep for 2 whole days. Her breathing finally seemed less laborious than it was the previous week and she looked peaceful, but she wouldn’t open her eyes. Then, when I was peeling off the plaster from the wrinkled skin of her neck the pain impulse made her open her eyes suddenly and she actually made an attempt to move her one functioning hand to push me away.

It was the first reaction we had seen from her in a whole week. “She might pull out of this episode after all!”, we thought. But after 5 minutes of looking around at all of us in the room she went back into her deep slumber.

That same night when we were all sitting with her she opened her eyes again, as if to take a look at all of us for one last time, and, without another second’s delay her soul escaped her withered body. It was so swift, as if to say “enough is enough”; as if she was afraid that if she gave us a chance we’d cling on to her even longer.

During her long, illustrious life Nayanamma’s was a restless soul. She could not sit put for more than 10 minutes and always had a quip or 2 for anyone who would listen (and more often than not, even if no one was listening). We would have it no other way!

When I saw her lying lifeless on her bed I was overcome by a very strange feeling. Was I feeling relieved? How come I wasn’t feeling sad? Yes, there were tears in my eyes, but that was more due to the sight of my father sobbing uncontrollably, holding his dear mother in his arms. Was I not feeling full of grief that my darling grandmother, who had given us years and years of wonderful memories, had left us forever? Why was I feeling much lighter than I had in the last 2 years, whenever I entered her room?

As all these thoughts swirled around in my mind, I walked into my room and picked up an old photo of Nayanamma with all of us grand kids; me, my sister and my 4 kid cousins. I looked upon the infectious smile on her face which I hadn’t seen for 2 long years. She was always happiest when surrounded by us. That smile was so beautiful but we never valued it as much when she was with us.

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Nayanamma loved people and people loved Nayanamma.

No matter how strenuous it was to host guests she was always not only game but positively thrilled to do so.

Nobody can testify to this better than the whopping 18 people she brought up during various periods of their lives. Her husband’s youngest brother and younger sister, her own 3 sons, her sister’s 3 sons and 1 daughter, her cousin’s son and more. Each of these people were fed, nurtured and disciplined by her at some point of their lives.

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And that was before the grandchildren came into her life.

Whenever we grandchildren went to stay with her in Kakinada and then in Guntur it was like festival time for her. She would call all her friends home and parade us around proudly and would tell all and sundry that we had come to visit. You can’t blame us for believing we were the bee’s knees!

The time I actually remember realising how much she loved having people around was way back in 2006. All 3 of her sons had descended onto her home in Guntur with respective families in tow. That itself was 12 people. On top of that I had clubbed this trip with my friends’ trip and that meant another 5 growing boys with voracious appetites. Any other person would have wilted under the pressure of catering to all these creatures at once and withstanding the noise that emanated from having them all under one roof (grandfather did wilt actually) but Nayanamma was in her element. She was overjoyed to have so many people around and made sure we had the best food we could imagine capped off with her signature Arisas and Karapoosa! My mouth is watering just thinking about them!

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Nayanamma was the personification of happy-go-lucky.

If there ever was a scale to measure ‘worry’ my grandfather, or Thathayya as we call him, would be at the extreme end and Nayanamma would be on the far left. This deadly combination of constant fretting with absolute gay abandon was always a source of melodrama for them and entertainment for us.

Our family lived in England and she was coming alone to visit. Thathayya had very caringly (or worriedly) put together a large pile of cards with questions in English for her eg. “Please guide me to the Check-in Counter” and “Where is the Security Check”. Nayanamma, very characteristically forgot all the sign boards at home and went on to the airport. When Dad went anxiously to pick her up from Heathrow Airport he found her to not only have navigated her first solo international travel with aplomb but to have also picked up a new Telugu speaking friend on the way whom she demanded had to be dropped at her home before coming back to ours!

Once in England she went on to befriend our Sri Lankan neighbours (whom we had barely spoken to in the year that we had shifted to the apartments) without understanding a word of what they were speaking and had figured out her own path around the neighbourhood for her walks.

I remember the summer in England. We lived way up on the 7th floor of the apartment complex. The neighbourhood authorities had built a large scaffolding around the apartments so that they could install some new airtight windows to all the flats. We were given very strict orders to make sure nobody would open the windows and walk onto the scaffolding outside.

We reiterated this rule to Nayanamma before we left to our respective schools and jobs.

That evening when we came back we found the apartment empty and couldn’t find her anywhere! We panicked a little because she usually went for walks later in the evening and was usually at home at this time. Then we saw her! Not only had she completely disregarded the ‘no climbing onto the scaffolding’ rule but she was out there drying her multicoloured sarees on them!

We were worried sick but couldn’t help but laugh out loud!

When we shifted back to Hyderabad she had come to stay with us for a few weeks. Hari Babai (Dad’s younger brother) decided one day that he was going to teach her how to drive. He had recently bought Nayanamma and Thatha a cute little Maruti 800 car and made up his mind that she wanted to learn how to drive it. She was watching her favourite TV serial when he called her downstairs to start her lesson. She reluctantly turned off the TV and went downstairs. Within 10 minutes she came back upstairs and went into her room and switched the TV back on. I was curious about her lesson and went to ask her how it went. She casually told me that it was fine.

I looked around and realised Babai still hadn’t come home so I went downstairs to check on him. When I went down I saw him standing, pulling out his hair, next to the new car which was lodged firmly into the wall in front of it!

Once again, I couldn’t help but laugh at her devil-may-care attitude!

I remembered her weathered diary in which she had all her phone numbers stored along with her favourite sayings and samithis written carefully in Telugu. She would call us to her room and repeat her favourite ones whenever she had a chance and we would act as if we were hearing them for the first time.

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I remembered her hankies that she always had clenched in her fist. Like Hansel and Gretel leaving behind bread crumbs in the forest, she would leave them around everywhere she went so we always knew she was sitting at a particular spot when we saw one.

Nayanamma was always happy in her own space back in Guntur where she had her group of close friends and followers. She repeatedly rejected our requests to come and live with us in Hyderabad. She was right! If they were to come and live with us she would have nothing to do all day when were away at work; it would’ve driven her crazy!

I don’t know if it was our selfish need to bring her to Hyderabad to be with us that led to the cascade of events that ultimately confined her to her woebegone state in her bed in our house.

She had called us from Guntur and had casually mentioned to us that she was suffering from diarrhoea since a week. What if we had just asked her to see her local doctor or even just mentioned the medicines she needed to take over the phone? How would things have turned our if we, in our overzealous attempt to have her with us in Hyderabad, had not just gotten into the car and driven all the way to Guntur to bring her to us to receive treatment. We brought her here and treated the gastroenteritis. What if we, in our overenthusiasm to make sure she was hail and healthy hadn’t decided to do an angiography to check on her heart vessels. To do this we had to gain access to her forearm veins, which weren’t prominent enough. What if we had just let it be at that point? As an alternative we gained access through the vein in her thigh. We found that her heart vessels were doing OK but the site at the thigh had now begun to pool blood as the vessel wasn’t healing as fast as we would want. After around 2 weeks of repeated dressings we decided to stop her blood thinning medicines for a while so that the vessel could heal better.

And then disaster struck. The blood thinner now stopped, a blood clot had formed which got dislodged and went on to block the vessels to her brain.

Our Nayanamma would never be the same again.

A normal brain stroke usually ends up affecting one half of the body and partially paralyses that half. But for Nayanamma it was a more severe stroke. It had affected a portion of her brain which involved memory and cognizance as well.

She no longer could speak to us freely, and found it difficult to remember who we were at times.

Our initial attempts at making her walk with support slowly became more and more in vain as her mind and body refused to keep up.

She was being tormented by her inability to get up and move and meet her friends and live life on her own terms as she had done for 75 years.

Imagine waking up and staring up into the same spot of the same ceiling every single day for 2 years! It would drive anyone crazy let alone such a free-spirited woman!

During this period I have to mention Thatha. I don’t think I will ever see a person care for a spouse the way he did in the last 2 years. His life became restricted to that room with Nayanamma; she couldn’t budge and he wouldn’t!

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That brings us back to the past 2 weeks. Nayanamma was starting to look feebler than ever and Thatha’s health also seemed to be deteriorating. Seeing her in the state she was in killed us every day. I can imagine her energetic soul being trapped in her frail body, waiting for every opportunity to be just let free. But we wouldn’t have it. When she aspirated on that fateful day last week, were we wrong in rushing her to the hospital and trying to hang on to her last shreds of life by putting her on the ventilator? Were we wrong to then reconsider whether we wanted to intervene again if she had another life threatening episode? We immediately called my second uncle and my aunt from the USA to come and be with Nayanamma lest these be the last few days of her torment. Were we correct in bringing her home when we knew she might not survive more than another 24 hours off medical support? Would we actually let go when the time came or would we cling on to her life again? What life would she go back to if we did?

There were so many questions in our minds and when she finally breathed her last we were overcome by a swirl of emotions.

When my mother’s father had passed away years ago, it was my very first encounter with a death in the family. I didn’t know him as well as I would have liked but I was quite disturbed by the whole ordeal.

When Ammamma (Mom’s Mom) passed away it was a different feeling. I was extremely close to her and I was filled with sorrow knowing I would never be able to speak to her again.

Now Nayanamma’s death was another kind of feeling. I wasn’t feeling sorrowful. In fact I was definitely sure that I was relieved. Relieved that she wouldn’t have to lie so helplessly in her bed anymore; relieved that she wouldn’t have to be a shadow of her magnificent self.

But at the same time I felt guilty that I was relieved.

Was I a monster to be feeling this way when, around me Dad, Mom, my sister, my aunt and my uncles were all weeping.

I then looked at the one man who had it the worst these last 2 years. Thatha sat calmly in his chair, content that his life partner of 56 years finally was at peace.

At that moment I dispelled any guilt in my heart and embraced the happiness I felt for Nayanamma’s acquittal and a smile came to face as I looked back at the photo in my hand.

I can imagine her right now, her beautiful, energetic soul looking down at us from above, smiling that infectious smile again, clutching that hanky of hers and getting ready to make some new friends and catch up with some old ones. Maybe she would have a good game of rummy with Ammamma? Or would she be making some Arisas with her sister? Whatever she is doing now, she is free!

Freed at last!

We miss you Nayanamma!

KAMAAL KARTE HO PANDEY JI! (24.10.2016)

akshay-kumar-neeraj-pandey-580x350Few film makers are able to balance the art and commerce of cinema deftly especially in a landscape like Bollywood where formula sells and quality gets compromised. Neeraj Pandey is one man who has consistently managed to keep his films riveting and profitable for his investors. A tribute to this talented man!

KAMAAL KARTE HO PANDEY JI!

A Wednesday! – Faqr Hai!

Special 26 – Faqr Hai!

Baby – Faqr Hai!

M.S. Dhoni – Faqr Hai!

 

Just as the terrorists in ‘A Wednesday!’ proclaimed in pride after listing out their respective misdeeds, the man responsible for these 4 gems should too –  the difference being, he would be absolutely justified in doing so.

Neeraj Pandey has slowly but steadily taken his place in my heart as my favourite Hindi movie director. Over the course of just 4 films he has managed to creep in and share the spot with the genius Vishal Bhardwaj.

As his latest film ‘M.S. Dhoni’ was set to release I went back to my DVD collection and ran a Neeraj Pandey marathon over the last week before catching the biopic of our beloved captain cool in theatres.

I knew that all 3 of the movies he had directed prior to ‘Dhoni’ (not including ‘Rustom’ which was only produced by him) were in my top 15 favourite Hindi movies but on my repeat viewing of them back to back I realised just how much I love them and how much I love his writing and direction.

Pandey truly is an auteur par excellence. But what is it that sets him apart from the rest and places him in the same league as Vishal Bhardwaj?  I think it’s the patriotic undercurrent he imbues his films with. From the available evidence of just 5 films (‘A Wednesday!’, ‘Special 26’, ‘Baby’, ‘Rustom’ and ‘M.S. Dhoni’) I feel it is safe to assume Neeraj Pandey is a patriot. His choices of subjects share a perceptible common thread – ‘being Indian’.

The genres are actually quite contrasting if observed from a distance – a crime thriller, a comedy based on a real story, an all out espionage action thriller, a period courtroom drama and a biopic of a still at large public figure.

But if you observe closely each has a distinct Indian flavour – fear and paranoia after the Mumbai train blasts, corruption and jugaad in the 80s and 90s, a sense of helplessness and anger following the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the love of cricket and the worship of the country’s cricketing heroes.

You could ask – how can he be called a patriot when he has made a movie like ‘Special 26’ which has such a cynical and satirical outlook of Indians and the Indian system? Even his more obviously pro-India movies like ‘A Wednesday!’ and ‘Baby’ don’t mince words when questioning the many fallacies and faults in our people and our government. But that’s what cements his true love of India in my opinion. The embracement of everything that makes us Indian, without being condescending or preachy. The embracement of the spirit of ‘Jugaad’ but never allowing the same spirit into his craft. Indianism as opposed to jingoism. Give me a ‘Special 26’ over ‘Gadar – Ek Prem Katha’ any day.

Now back to this young man’s glimmering filmography. When I sat and compiled a list of Neeraj Pandey’s films and compared them to Vishal Bhardwaj’s (I repeatedly make this comparison because Bhardwaj has set a certain benchmark with his films) I noticed some stark differences. Bhardwaj’s films superbly transport us into another world. Though most of them are based in the heartlands of our country there is always a sense of fantasy in them. This is compounded by the poetry that his frequent collaborator Mr. Gulzar weaves into his narratives. His movies are like a swig of strong whisky – an amazing, transportative experience that leave you wanting more but at the same time leaving you slightly unsettled. You admire the beautiful ingredients that fall perfectly into place (like the dialogue, the acting. the music and the lyrics) but you also feel ashamed to be rooting for these dark, deeply flawed and ultimately unrelatable characters.

But when you think of Pandey’s films, there are some strong, specific emotions that are evoked in the audience. Pride, anger, fear and a strong love for our country. This is because his films talk directly about the real India we live in – whether he’s talking of current affairs or days bygone – and the characters are usually the embodiments of the Indian common man.

As I gushed over his latest ‘M.S. Dhoni’ I decided I wanted to briefly review all his films and list out everything that made me love them. So here goes:

A Wednesday! – This gem of a movie came like a lightning bolt out of the blue 8 years ago (2008). The Hindi film audience was changing and they we were now slowly embracing all kinds of offbeat, non-‘masala’ movies and filmmakers were responding. The likes of Shimit Amin, Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj, Dibakar Banerjee, Anurag Basu, Farhan Akhtar, Sriram Raaghavan and Rakesysh OmPrakash Mehra were gaining footholds in the film industry and their films, refusing to stick to the tired formulae of the 80s and 90s were all gaining various degrees of success, critical and commercial. From the turn of the century these guys treated Hindi film audiences to films like ‘Black Friday’, ‘Ek Hasina Thi’, ‘Johnny Gaddar’, ‘Ab Tak Chappan’, ‘Chak De India’, ‘Dil Chahta Hai’, ‘Lakshya’, ‘Rang De Basanti’, ‘Life… in a Metro’, ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’, ‘Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!’, ‘Maqbool’ and ‘Omkara’.wednesday

But with ‘A Wednesday!’ Neeraj Pandey clearly announced that he was the man to look out for in Bollywood.

Made on a shoestring budget without any major commercial stars (other than the ever dependable Anupam Kher and Naseerudin Shah) the film was universally lauded and made a killing at the box office – a feat that Pandey would incredibly repeat with all his successive features.

 

The film was released at a time when Mumbai and India were still reeling from the horrendous Mumbai train blasts of 2006. There was a sense of fear and helplessness amongst the people and the movie plays on these fears for the first half. Amidst the excellent, tight screenplay there is a continuous undercurrent of unease as we relive the same paranoia that had gripped the city. Naseeruddin Shah’s brilliant performance in the first half make us despise him and makes our skin crawl. We root for Anupam Kher’s police officer to take down the terrorist played by Shah. But three quarters through the film a terrific twist completely changes our perception of the characters and suddenly we’re rooting for the other guy. Naseer’s performance, which is already brilliant up until this moment, takes it up a notch after the big reveal and he is mesmerising, especially while delivering one of the most powerful and heartbreaking monologues I have ever seen in a Hindi film.

naseeruddin-a-wednesday

Some of the lines he speaks give me goosebumps even as I write them:

 

Yeh chaaron cockroach mera ghar ganda kar rahe the aur aaj main apna ghar saaf karna chahta hoon!

Aaj main tareeke ke bare mein nahin, nateeje ke bare mein soch raha hoon!

Koi mada****d button dabake yeh faisla nahin karega ki main kab maroonga!

 

Once Naseer’s ‘Common Man’ let’s his true intentions out of the bag the mounting sense of dread and anger about the escaping terrorists is tansformed into a gush of euphoria when they meet their demise in the very manner they ended so many innocent lives.

The watertight screenplay is a master class in screen writing, every second of action so riveting that the audience doesn’t dare take their eyes off the screen even for a moment.

It speaks volumes about Neeraj Pandey’s writing that, in the midst of all the suspense, it manages to always keep the tension from boiling over with some subtle humour peppered in.

For instance, as the whole Anti Terrorist Unit waits in anticipation for the perpetrator’s next call the phone suddenly rings. Anupam Kher answers immediately only to realise it’s a sales call. You can’t help but laugh and relate to the frustration of being in that situation.

The acting overall is quite fantastic. Naseeruddin Shah, as mentioned earlier, is just phenomenal! Anupam Kher is his perfect foil. Following ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’ this was another one of the movies that started of a kind of mini-renaissance for him. He was doing some excellent roles and was endearing himself to the audiences (though his recent unsavoury and unsubtle support of BJP has slightly taken off the sheen). Jimmy Shergill is definitely one of the most underrated actors in the Hindi Film Industry. He is given a kick-ass role of a no-nonsense cop and performs it with relish. Pandey does an interesting switcheroo and casts the Punjabi Sikh Shergill as officer Asif and the understated Aamir Bashir as officer Jai. The rest of the cast is competent though I would have liked the 4 terrorists to have been a little more menacing and convincing in their roles.

The editing is crisp using slick split screens to heighten the sense of urgency as most of the conversations take place over the phone.

The action is also shot superbly. Difficult chase scenes in the streets of Mumbai amidst large crowds are pulled off with elan using some deft steadicam work (something Pandey would repeat in his later movies as well).

 

Overall ‘A Wednesday!’ is an absolute delight of a movie and one of my favourites of all time.

P.S. – A mention about the excellent scene before the end credits where, after succeeding in his mission, Naseeruddin’s ‘Common Man’ is about to flee from his office of operation when he realises he has to go back for something important he’s forgotten – the bag of sabzis he promised his wife! Superb!

 

 

Special 26 – Neeraj Pandey took 5 years to follow up his dream debut. ‘Special 26’ released in the year 2013 to heightened expectations. The man behind the cult classic ‘A Wednesday!’ was teaming up with superstar Akshay Kumar. Was he going all out masala with his sophomore effort? After all, Kumar had just been seen in no-brainer comedies like ‘Rowdy Rathore’, ‘Housefull 2’ and ‘Khiladi 786’. The title of the movie also sounded slightly strange. But all doubts are put to rest as soon as the movie begins. The first 20 minutes of the film are absolutely riveting. The movie takes place in 1980s India and the first thing we notice are the lovely touches made to recreate that time period; sepia filters used to evoke a sense of those days, nostalgia elicited by making the characters wear sweaters and clothes typical of the time and making them drive Ambassadors and Fiats along Delhi roads which are emptier than have been seen in the last 2 decades.

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The opening IT raid scene gets us to believe that these characters are upright government officials, Anupam Kher (returning to Pandey’s side) being the strict leader of the team and Kumar his enthusiastic sidekick. Jimmy Shergill also returns and is shown to be an obedient, dutiful cop. The raid scene is excellent and Kher’s no-nonsense character gets the best scene as he first gives a thappad to the Minister’s (whose house they are raiding) assistant and then again to the Mnister himself when he offers him 2 crore rupees as a bribe. Mantriji receives 2 thappads for his offer and his PA proclaims “Accha kiya, do ka hi offer diya!” – Pandey at his witty best!

Pandey’s dialogue is still razor sharp as is seen in this other gem uttered by Kumar who has just found bundles of unaccounted cash in the minister’s cupboard – “Sir, Mantriji ki tanakhwah!”

It is only at the 20 minute mark that we are shown the true colours of the main protagonists; complete frauds, imposters! We are not given even the slightest inkling of this till the funky background score by M.M. Keeravani kicks in and suddenly we realise Anupam Kher’s character is actually a meek and nervous thief and Akshay Kumar is the confident leader of the gang of 4.

The audience is tricked into a false sense of understanding of the machinations of the gang but it’s only till the denouement that we realise that all the cards had not been placed on the table. The second excellent twist towards the end makes the already enjoyable caper an absolute hoot and we can’t help but relish the exasperation and humiliation the hapless inspector played by Manoj Bajpayee feels when he realises he’s been played and the camera spins around him over and over while he laughs maniacally at his own plight. This scene is followed by another Pandey gem – “Chullu bhar paani yahan kahaan milega?”

 

Once again the acting is terrific. Anupam Kher not only matches but supercedes his role in ‘A Wednesday!’. Akshay Kumar is a revelation! His performance is perfectly understated and is unlike any performance of his seen till that point of time. Jimmy Shergill gets another meaty role and aces it again. Manoj Bajpayee is awesome as usual and you can’t help feeling sorry for his character.

Though the movie is a comedy there are lovely poignant moments between the team of thieves who are shown to be thick friends who actually care about each other. The love story, on the other hand, is slightly jarring.

The cinematography and editing are top notch. Another chase scene, this time through the lanes of Delhi, is excellently shot and Pandey’s affinity to steadicam shots is again shown through some nifty sequences.

All in all ‘Special 26’ was a really special film in 2013 and ended up rightly being a critical darling as well as another box office hit for Neeraj Pandey.

 

 

Baby – In 2015 Neeraj Pandey unleashed what is, in my opinion, one of the best action thrillers ever made in India! ‘Baby’ accomplished the almost impossible task of taking the number one spot of my favourite Neeraj Pandey movie away from ‘A Wednesday!’. When I first saw it in theatres I was on the edge of my seat for the whole 2 and ½ hours and left the theatre with goosebumps all over. My second viewing just before writing this article left me in the same state.

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This was a kind of wish fulfilment film in response to the heinous terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2008. In this regard, it is a thematically similar but far, far superior movie than Kabir Khan’s ‘Phantom’. The difference in quality between the two lies in the tight screenplay and excellent writing and deft direction by Neeraj Pandey, the terrific performances by all involved and the precise editing seen in ‘Baby’.

Akshay Kumar plays the role he was born to play! He is mesmerising as the agent who heads the undercover anti terrorist squad called ‘Baby’. He is going to find it difficult to ever top this performance. Pandey’s favourite, Anupam Kher is back and is as good as ever but plays a slightly caricature-like role. Rana and Danny Denzongpa are good in their respective roles and Taapsee Pannu is surprisingly good as the kick-ass female agent of the group. Kay Kay Menon is characteristically great but the villain that really sends a chill down your spine is played to perfection by Pakistani actor Rasheed Naz. Pandey doesn’t repeat the mistake of casting non-menacing actors to play terrorists like he did in ‘A Wednesday!’. Rasheed’s performance is absolutely scary and you can feel the blood lust in his eyes when his character gives a hate filled speech to bloodthirsty crowds while the background score grows more ominous by the second!

Speaking of the score, it is quite exceptional in this movie and really keeps the pulse of movie racing.

Pandey employs his third cinematographer in three movies and takes it up another notch. The camera work by Sudeep Chatterjee is phenomenal! His wide shots tracing the protagonists in huge, swelling crowds are superb. The choreography and staging of the chase and hand to hand combat scenes is excellent and never once do you lose track of what is happening.

Pandey’s favourite steadicam shots are deployed in long takes and are at their best here, perfectly fitting the narrative as the camera snakes around the SWAT team infiltrating a bomb-rigged mall.

The first half of the movie is pulse pounding and the second half goes a step further, especially the last half an hour which is nerve-wracking.

But once again Pandey manages to perfectly balance the tension with humour, mostly from Anupam Kher’s character who sprouts superb lines like:

“Tarzan aur Hulk jointly is operation sambhalenge? Ho gaya is desh ka kalyan!” (referring to Akshay Kumar and Rana)

Phir se phaad di?” (when Akshay’s character changes the plan at the last moment)

The 2 standout scenes are – Taapsee’s character beating one of the villains to a pulp just as we think she is going to get captured or killed and Akshay Kumar giving the minister’s assistant a mighty thappad for nonchalantly exclaiming that it’s normal for a soldier to die on duty.

But the thing that keeps ‘Baby’ a level above other thrillers is its heart. Amidst all the action and suspense there is a constant sense of sadness and gratitude towards our soldiers, our martyrs and saviours, at the border, undercover, behind enemy lines, wherever they are.

The love, adoration and pain felt for our heroes is summed up in a simple but beautiful line spoken by Akshay Kumar’s wife’s character as he leaves for another mission – “Suniye… bas marna mat!

‘Baby’ is in my top 5 Hindi movies ever!

 

 

M.S. Dhoni – This finally bring us to the movie of the moment. Neeraj Pandey’s latest opened to overwhelming numbers at the box office because of the adoration the masses have for the man whose story is being told. But it is a true testament to Pandey’s filmmaking abilities that the theatre attendance has been constant in the 3 weeks since its release and now the movie has turned out to be the second highest grosser of the year behind only box office behemoth Sultan.

It really is a wonderful movie.

ms-dhoni-movie

When the project was first announced I was sceptical. Up until now Pandey’s choice of projects had been excellent but this seemed like a strange story to take up. Even the disappointing Rustom which was produced by Pandey was a superb choice of subject – taking on the intriguing Nanavati Murder Case of 1959. But making a film on M.S. Dhoni seemed quite an odd choice. I love Dhoni as much as any other Indian but this is a man who is still playing the game. Biopics (especially sports ones) are usually made on people who have long been retired like ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ (excellent), ‘Chak De India’ (excellent) and ‘Azhar’ (mediocre); Mary Kom (competent) being one other notable exception.

But Neeraj Pandey doesn’t disappoint. The first victory is in the casting. Sushant Singh Rajput in the lead role is absolutely spot on. He carries off the swagger and body language of M.S. without ever striving too hard to ape him. He is quite excellent in a difficult role that was bound to be scrutinized by all. As is expected by now in a Neeraj Pandey film Anupam Kher shines as Dhoni’s endearing, strict but loving father. The 2 girls who play his love interests are also very good. But the most delightful bit of casting is that of a young Yuvraj Singh; the guy playing him looks so much like the real Yuvi that it brought a smile to everyone’s faces.

Secondly, Pandey manages to write an intriguing script. It’s never easy to come up with an interesting script from a real life story. We think we know everything there is to know about Dhoni but the story of his struggle before he became the superstar we all love is quite riveting. Even at a run-time of 3 hours the audience’s attention is maintained throughout. This is a Test Match of a movie but one that doesn’t end in a tepid draw.

The meat of the story is shared by Dhoni’s struggles, both within and around him, en route to becoming the world cup winning captain of the Indian cricket team and his 2 love stories. Romance is one area Pandey had not managed to depict deftly in his previous 3 movies but here he handles both love stories with elan. The heartbreaking story of Dhoni’s first love and the endearing story of him meeting, courting and marrying Sakshi are handled superbly.

Dhoni’s friendships and relationships with his family and mentors are also shown with a lot of care and the affection towards this man only grows upon seeing how he has managed to maintain them till now.

Another masterstroke is playing live footage from some unforgettable cricket matches and using CGI to superimpose Sushant’s face onto Dhoni’s body thus enabling the audience to relive the euphoria of watching these matches and reminisce when and where they were when that match took place.

 

Ending the film with the unforgettable world cup final is the icing on the cake. It’s a great touch to see Dhoni in the dressing room and deciding to push himself up the order and make his now historic walk to the battlefield. Hearing Ravi Shastri’s ecstatic cries of “Dhoni finishes off in style! A magnificent strike into the crowd! India lift the world cup after 28 years!!!” still gives me goosebumps and is a perfect climax to this joyous movie.

 

There you have it. All four of Neeraj Pandey’s superb films brcrackoken down bit by bit by a geeky fan! Now the wait begins for his next collaboration with ‘Khiladi Kumar’ – ‘Crack’.

 

Kamaal Karte Ho Pandey Ji!!!

 

TOUR-DE-‘FORCE’ (25.05.2016)

star wars sagaMay is always Star Wars Month. May 4th is Star Wars Day, May 14th is George Lucas’ birthday and May 25th is the anniversary of the release of Star Wars. So it was only natural that I come out of my writing hibernation today. For all those Star Wars fans out there (and the other 6 guys as well):

TOUR-DE-‘FORCE’

A long time ago (May 25th 1977 to be precise)…

 

in a galaxy far, far away (More like a couple of continents to the west)……

….

…….

……….

2000px-Star_Wars_Logo.svg

 

[I know, I know! That’s the biggest cliché in the book, but how can you expect me not to start an article on the greatest film franchise in the world without the greatest opening lines in film history??? It was too tempting to resist!]

 

I had been wanting to write something about Star Wars since quite some time now. The passion was there and there was so much to say. There were also, over the last 5 years, plenty of occasions (ever since the announcement of the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney and the new trilogy) to send a shout out to my (and 99.9457% of the world’s) favourite film saga! But somehow I just never got down to it.

Then, on this latest Star Wars Day (May 4th 2016) something intriguing happened. All around the world, Star Wars worshippers were wishing each other a happy Star Wars Day (“May the Fourth Be With You” – genius!) and I realised I just didn’t feel the same amount of giddy excitement and the temptation to watch all of the movies in sequence (I believe in the order of release – IV, V, VI, I, II, III, VII) as I did even up till last year on the same day. Facebook threw me up a reminder of my thoughts on this day exactly a year ago and my typical incoherent gushing about all things Star Wars – X-Wings, Ewoks, twin suns etc. got me thinking… how come this year I hadn’t celebrated this very important, auspicious day with my fellow geeks out there? I mean, we just recently were gifted with a perfectly entertaining, widely praised new instalment in our beloved series from one of my favourite directors around – the quintessential geek/auteur J.J. Abrams. My enthusiasm should’ve, in fact, skyrocketed like the midichlorians in the young Anakin’s blood (yes, I DO like the prequels and I WILL make awful puns from them).

In my time of introspection I came across an interesting article on my movie news feed which was basically defending a certain Mr. George Lucas from the public ire.

It struck me at that moment what it was that had partially dampened my excitement towards this wonderful galaxy. It was the very reason most diehard fans of the original series regained their faith in the saga after feeling disillusioned with the prequel trilogy.

It was the absence of Lucas.

 

Now, before I get thrown into a Sarlaac pit for such an admission, hear me out.

 

In my eyes George Lucas is a genius.

In spite of the prequels, in spite of the special editions, in spite of Jar Jar Binks… heck even in spite of Greedo shooting first!!! George Lucas is the man!

lucas director

And not only a creative genius, but also a visionary in the fields of technology and entrepreneurship.

 

It pains me to see the hatred and ridicule that has been put his way over the last 15 years.

Star Wars is an extremely important part of my life and I’ll always be grateful to Lucas for it.

 

So, although this article is basically about the magic of Star Wars, I wanted to link it with the journey of George Lucas. And what better way to do that than to split it up into Episodes whose numbering confuses the crap out of everyone. As every character in every Star Wars movie has said at least once before something important happens – “I have a bad feeling about this!”

bad feel

 

TOUR-DE-‘FORCE’ : EPISODE IV – STORYTELLER SUPREME

 

By now everyone from Dagobah all the way to Tatooine is aware of the sheer impact Star Wars has had on the pop culture landscape and on the world as a whole. Innumerable films, TV shows, books, games and even songs have either parodied, paid homage to or have just referenced Star Wars in some form or the other. Even as recently as last week in the gleefully enjoyable ‘Captain America: Civil War’ everyone’s favourite neighbourhood Spiderman directly references ‘Empire Strikes Back’s famous AT-AT Walker toppling scene. There was a feeling of life coming full circle actually. It is thanks to Star Wars that we can make movies like Captain America and The Avengers etc. (And even more meta is the fact that Marvel Studios and Star Wars are now almost like step brothers living under the same turreted roof of a small studio called Disney.)

But before Star Wars was quoted by every second person in the world it was just another new release in the summer of 1977.

 

What made it the cultural touchstone that it has come to be?

Let’s take a time travelling De Lorean back to the past to take a peek at the beginning of a phenomenon. Think of how difficult it was to get the movie made all the way back in 1977. Here was this young man with just a couple of small films under his belt who had with him a preposterous script about some ancient religion with incessant talk of some mystical ‘Force’ and weirdly named characters (did he really think people would remember a name like Obi Wan Kenobi???). He required a pretty large budget to pull off half of the things from page to screen. In fact some of the things he had written had never been filmed before and were probably impossible to do!!!

No studio wanted anything to do with him and he was scoffed at and shown the door for the longest time.

When the movie was finally greenlit it was no walk in the park to make either, leading Lucas to once famously state that he might never direct another movie again after that experience.

While shooting, Lucas was constantly unhappy with how the movie was materialising. In fact it was his best friend Steven Spielberg who had more faith in the movie than Lucas did himself.

Legend has it that Lucas who had just finished wrapping the principle shooting for the movie and had made a rough cut ready (without the background score and most of the special effects) had an early screening for some of his close friends in the industry. The group included 2 up and coming directors who along with Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese and Lucas himself comprised the group known as the ‘70s Movie Brats’ – Spielberg and Brian De Palma. Apparently when the screening was over De Palma got up and heckled Lucas telling him that it was one of the worst things he had ever seen. Lucas was obviously distraught, but it was Spielberg who reassured him that he had something special on his hands.

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The Movie Brats – Spielberg, Scorsese, De Palma, Lucas, Coppola

Another anecdote from around the time of release of Star Wars proved Lucas’ disillusionment with his film. He had just finished wrapping the shoot and had gone to visit Spielberg on his set for ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (which also released the same year). He was shooting the final titular encounter and it was atop the now famous hill where a huge lavish set was constructed along with a giant spaceship and the famous lights which appear in the scene.

Lucas was awestruck and slightly envious. He felt that despite all the advances he and his team had made on creating the wonders for his movie, somehow it didn’t match up to his vision. And here was his buddy Steve who had built this amazing set which had a completely surreal look and was beyond anything he had ever seen.

He told Steven that he was sure ‘Close Encounters’ would be a super hit like his previous movie ‘Jaws’ and was doubly sure that his own ‘Star Wars’ would sink without a trace. Spielberg couldn’t disagree more. He was confident that both of their movies would do well; so much so that he made a bet with Lucas. He bet that at the end of the theatrical runs of their respective movies each of them would receive 10% of the earnings of the other’s movie.

‘Close Encounters…’ went on to become a huge hit and a critical darling and as per the bet George Lucas earned a nice profit… but Star Wars went on to shatter Spielberg’s own Jaws’ record for the highest grossing film of all time and Spielberg was more than happy to let his buddy take the limelight (as made obvious by the following ad he got printed in the papers); he had made a humongous amount of money off of him after all!

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Many movies have come and broken Star Wars’ record since and presently the king on top of the hill is James Cameron’s Avatar. But Avatar never really became even half as culturally relevant as Star Wars has been since its release. What was it that set this saga apart from the rest?

There are multiple factors that made Star Wars transcend all others that came before and after it. The setting of the familiar story of a young hero’s journey in a fantastic new universe, the mashing of the western, sci-fi, war and adventure genres, the score by legend John Williams (oh, what a score!!!) to name just a few.

Try to remember the first time you watched Star Wars. That gush of excitement as soon as the goosebumps inducing fanfare from John Williams blares out of the speakers and you have the now iconic opening text crawl up giving us our first glimpse into a world we could never have imagined even in our wildest dreams.

But wait!!!

I understand that this whole story takes place ‘in a galaxy far, far away’, being in space and all, but ‘a long time ago’??? What a masterstroke! The very first words seen or heard from the movie immediately throw the viewer off guard and brace them for something spectacular!

From that moment on it’s a barrage of one grand idea after another, whether it’s the design of the planets, the names and characterisation of the protagonists, the different species of aliens and creatures and most importantly the whole mythos of the story.

 

But it all boils down to one indisputable fact.

George Lucas was a fantastic visual storyteller!

When anyone mentions Star Wars there are so many images that come to mind. Luke looking on as the twin suns set over his home planet of Tatooine, the Death Star blowing planet Alderaan to smithereens, the Death Star itself getting blown to smithereens, the Millenium Falcon and Luke’s X-Wing flying in different directions after the Battle of Hoth. These images have been imprinted into our memories and could only have been thought up by someone with an unbelievable imagination and the talent to know what would visually appeal to an audience.

STAR WARS

 

But visual panache aside any story is only as good as its plot.

The plot of the original trilogy is a simple but intriguing one. The Dictatorship led by the tyrannical leader (Nazis anyone?) versus the Rebel Alliance forms the backdrop for what is essentially the family saga of the Skywalkers. The multiple subplots about the Jedi and the smugglers on the run from drug lords are terrific storylines in themselves and are all made even more appealing by excellent characters, each and every one of whom we have come to adore. What is seen on screen is mindblowing – lightsaber duels, dog fights in space, Princess Leia in a bikini, ground battles on snow planets, rescue missions on desert planets, Princess Leia in a bikini, chase scenes through asteroid fields (did I mention Princess Leia in a bikini?); but what makes these 3 movies sublime is the amount of story that isn’t shown and is just referenced by characters; the Clone Wars, Han and Chewie completing the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, the Jedi council, the friendship between Obi Wan and Anakin. It gives the whole saga a sense of mystery and wonder and sucks the audience so much more into that wonderful world (of course,  most of these aspects were shown extensively in the prequels and the cartoon series to varying degrees of success and will be shown in forthcoming spinoff movies as well).

Aside from the political and spiritual conflicts going on it’s the family revelations and strife that really gives the saga the emotional impact it possesses. Apparently when ‘Empire’ first released there was a collective audible gasp that resonated around the cinema hall when Vader uttered those iconic words – “Luke… I am your father!!!”. Now it’s an extensively parodied line (even finding its way onto condom covers) but in 1981 it was a sucker punch to the gut!

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Keep those pesky X-Wings out of the Exhaust Port!

 

I was lucky to have watched the original trilogy in theatres in 1998 when Lucas had re-released it with the digital remastering and I sure did enjoy it, but at that time I was kind of used to seeing such spectacles in special effects. I was, after all, a Jurassic Park kid.

But think back to 1977 for a minute! Just imagine what would’ve been going through the minds of the lucky people who were privileged to watch the movie with no preconceived notions whatsoever. In fact, I read somewhere that at certain screenings people scoffed at the opening credits thinking they were going to witness a B-grade feature. Boy, were they in for a jolly good time!!!

[Also – Princess Leia in a Bikini!!!]

 

TOUR-DE-‘FORCE’ : EPISODE V – LET THERE BE LIGHT, LET THERE BE MAGIC

 

When Lucas set out to make Star Wars he had a huge task at hand. Most studios were appalled at his audacity to claim that he could translate the things he had written in his script onto the screen. Shooting dog fights with fighter jets in the sky itself was a herculean task in this those days and this guy was talking about doing the same in a space setting with preposterous looking spaceships and laser-like gunshots.

ships

This speaks volumes of Lucas’ keen eye for technology and creation.

Firstly some of the things he imagined for the movie itself are wonderful and complex. Moisture vapourisers, lightsabres, hovering speed bikes, the various droids.

Some of the ideas were far ahead of their times but still very practical – lots of them are almost a reality now 40 years later,  like holographic communication and bionic limbs.

But what is even more astounding is the number of technological advances he made behind the camera. Advances which would ultimately change and define the way movies are made forever more.

It was basically the unavailability of the tech required to bring his dreams to life which prompted Lucas to make so many innovations. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.

 

For example, to shoot realistic dogfight sequences set in space Lucas and his group invented the Dykstraflex technology. Using a camera mounted on the Dykstraflex they would mount a miniature working replica of the spacecraft against a green or blue screen and would rotate the camera through the whole 360 degree range replicating the movements seen in aerial battle.

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The Dykstraflex technology

 

Lucasfilm, the company founded by Lucas, gave birth to the most influential effects company in the history of movies – ‘Industrial Light and Magic’ (ILM). This legendary effects house revolutionised special effects in movies and paved the path for the eyepopping CGI we witness today. Lucas’ vision was brought to life with the ingenuity of his ILM team and the rest is history!

Of the many innovations they came up with some of the most influential were –

  • Go motion technology. Up until then, to make moving images of fantastic beasts clay models were made to look as if they were moving by the well known stop motion technology which used the effect of motion blur to make it appear as if the models were moving but Lucas found it to be too clunky for his tastes so he set his team about making a newer, more sophisticated technique called go motion. Spielberg almost used this same technique for Jurassic Park but decided to go ahead with a combination of animatronics and CGI instead.

 

  • ILM had also perfected the blue screen technology which used to look pretty fake before Star Wars revolutionised it with seamless looking space sequences and lightsabre duels (even more so in the Prequels where almost whole worlds and even a whole character were completely computer generated.)

 

  • The technological wizardry of George Lucas and his minions gave birth to another company which was given the task of combining CGI with live action. He later sold the company to another visionary – Mr. Steve Jobs. Yes, George Lucas was also responsible for creating Pixar! (Once again, like Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm was reunited with its long lost brother Pixar under the watchful eye of Disney.) So basically Lucas would be indirectly responsible for the countless classics that came from the acclaimed studio.

 

  • Lucas popularised the use of digital projectors in theatres.

 

  • ILM would go on to provide special effects for hundreds of movies outside of Lucasfilm and become the standard against which any other effects company was compared. Lucas had also given strict orders to ILM to never turn down a project from his best buddy Spielberg and together they have created such classics as ET, Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark, to name a few.
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The numerous characters brought to life by ILM
  • All these innovations I’ve mentioned are in the field of visual technology but Lucas’ influence didn’t just stop at eye candy. He also catered to the way we hear movies. He founded the THX technology (named after his first film ‘THX-1138’) which became the gold standard for movie theatres all over the world allowing us to hear sound in 3D.

 

TOUR-DE-‘FORCE’ : EPISODE VI – THE ENTREUPREUNEUR STRIKES GOLD

 

No matter what people may say about George Lucas’ directing or writing skills there’s one thing no one in their right mind can deny – he’s one heck of a businessman.

Of the many aspects of films that he pioneered one thing that many people forget to mention is the way he revolutionised movie merchandising.

Films were usually a one-off commodity that made money when they were running in theatres and that was it. But Lucas changed all that with a brilliant move. When Star Wars began to go over budget and started to exceed its designated time frame for completion Lucas relinquished his directorial fee. The studio was more than happy to oblige. But he had one catch – he was to retain all merchandising and franchise rights. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time but the bumper success of the movie paved the path for a new, lucrative business – Movie Merchandising. Star Wars action figures started coming into production and they sold like hot cakes. Every single boy or girl from 1977 onwards had to have the latest Han Solo or Darth Vader or Yoda toy to recreate the iconic scenes in their bed rooms. The merchandising didn’t just stop at action figures. Star Wars was everywhere. Quilt covers, diapers, cereal boxes, pyjamas – you name it. George Lucas actually made more money on merchandise than the actual movies themselves!!!

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Paraphernalia maketh the Fan!

Lucas claims that his idea wasn’t actually to make so much money off the merchandising when he made the deal with 20th Century Fox. His actual aim was to prevent his intellectual property landing in other hands so that he could have complete creative control for further sequels and branding. Of course, the billions of dollars he made on merchandise didn’t hurt either I’m sure.

 

 

TOUR-DE-‘FORCE’ : EPISODE I – THE PREQUEL MENACE

 

The new millennium hasn’t been kind to George Lucas. The once unbreakable bond between fans and their messiah began to show cracks when he released the special editions of the original trilogy. Fans were upset with all the tinkering he made with their beloved movies, a most vocal grouse being Greedo shooting at Han first at the table in the Mos Eisly Cantina. Ever since the release of ‘Star Wars : Episode I – The Phantom Menace’ fans’ attitude towards their once hero became as cold as a winter on Hoth.

People were appalled by the extensive use of CGI, the horrendous dialogue, the complicated plot, the awful acting and worst of all – Jar Jar Binks.

Every new prequel angered fans more and more and then suddenly George Lucas, who was once the Yoda of the masses had become Emperor Palpatine.

The amount of hatred towards him had become so extreme that there was even a documentary made in 2010 called ‘The People Versus George Lucas’.

But is the Hatred of George Lucas really justified?

This is the same guy who created the very world we love so much. Don’t you think he has every right to take it in any direction he pleases, whether good or bad? It’s like a parent (he said as much in an uncomfortable interview before the release of Force Awakens) who had always been told that he did a great job raising a wonderful kid and then all of a sudden is told that he’s a horrendous parent and that he has to give up his child to foster care.

 

But let’s take a minute and take things into perspective. Firstly, the idea of prequels itself was a novel one; add to that the fact that the new movies were going to show us the incredible origin story of the greatest villain to have ever graced cinema screens. Secondly, technology had caught up to George Lucas’ vision. With limited resources itself he had made such a masterpiece back in ‘77, just imagine what he could do now! And most of all, most Star Wars fans were absolutely hungry for more action in their galaxy far, far away and were excited to introduce their kids to the most important part of their lives.

 

All these factors led to humongous expectations that could never really have been met realistically.

 

‘Episode One’ had fans in such a frenzy leading up to its release that most people were in denial that the movie didn’t live up to their lofty expectations. Fans’ love and reverence for Lucas for giving them the original trilogy as well as Indiana Jones had taken a solid beating. Initially it was more of a sense of denial. Then Attack of the Clones released and fans worst fears were confirmed. “Lucas was actually just a hack film maker”. “The first Star Wars was probably a tremendous fluke, ‘Empire’ was awesome because of Irvin Kershner and Lawrence Kasdan and Return of the Jedi because of Richard Marqand!” ‘Revenge of the Sith’ was generally better received but it was too late by then. George Lucas was already public enemy number one.

Fuelled by the internet, fans all over the world didn’t hold back in pouring their scorn on the man who had destroyed their childhood just for a few billions of dollars.

 

Now let’s look back at these 3 movies which changed the public opinion towards one man so drastically.

Needless to say, all three movies were monstrous hits at the box office despite the bad buzz surrounding them.

Let’s examine the Rotten Tomatoes scores of each (definitely not a gauge of the true merit of a film but the site shows the general consensus of various critics).

Star Wars : Episode I – The Phantom Menace   –   56%

Star Wars : Episode II – Attack of the Clones   –    65%

Star Wars : Episode III – Revenge of the Sith   –   79%

 

Definitely not the splat fests you would expect from their reputations!

 

How do they compare with the scores of the original trilogy?:

Star Wars : Episode IV – A New Hope   –   94%

Star Wars : Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back   –   94%

Star Wars : Episode VI – Return of the Jedi   –   80%

 

Now, as Rotten Tomatoes would have you know, the prequels although not near as well received as the original trilogy definitely were above average fare at the least. In fact ‘Revenge of the Sith’ stands at just 1% less than the revered ‘Return of the Jedi’.

So is the public reputation of the prequels actually as bad as pop culture would have you believe or is it just the product of internet hyperbole?

I, for one, really enjoy the Prequel Trilogy. Yes, some of the dialogue is horrendous (“I hate sand! It’s coarse and it gets everywhere!”), some of the acting is terrible (Hayden Christensen playing Anakin was probably one of the worst casting choices ever) and on my recent rewatch of the saga I actually did get slightly distracted by the overt use of CGI (which had never bothered me before). But still, to me, the Prequel Trilogy is an excellent addition and expansion of that beloved galaxy. I love the intricate plot (definitely less straightforward than the Original Trilogy), I love the new worlds we are introduced to, John Williams’ scores are amazing and definitely on par with the Originals, the Lightsabre duels are mesmerising (far more engaging than the originals even), I love the Podrace, I love watching Yoda kick some Sith ass, I enjoyed the war sequences with simultaneous terrain, space and lighstsabre battles, I get goosebumps when I hear “Begin, the Clone Wars have!” and frankly speaking I really don’t mind Jar Jar Binks (so shoot me!).

And then nothing can be as awesome as this:

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TOUR-DE-‘FORCE’ : EPISODE VII – THE FANS REAWAKEN

 

In 2012 a disturbance was felt in the Force across the Galaxy. A news snippet was stealthily leaked to the public like the blueprints to the Death Star. People everywhere were in a frenzy… George Lucas had sold his creation to Disney. The news was taken with a lot of suspicion because it didn’t sound like something Lucas would do. He was very protective of his baby. And it wasn’t just Star Wars he had apparently sold. He had sold the rights to Lucasfilm as a whole. That included all Star Wars movie rights, games, books, TV shows – everything. Even the Indiana Jones franchise was part of the deal. The rumours turned out to be true and the deal will be remembered as one of the biggest in the history of movies. Disney’s path to total world domination was complete. They already owned 2 of the biggest money making studios around (Marvel and Pixar) apart from their own movies. And now they had the MVP. Disney was Real Madrid. Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm were their Galacticos.

Initially people were sceptical. What would the acquirement of Lucasfilm by Disney mean in the context of the Star Wars legacy? Would the new movies be too childish? Is there a need for new movies in the first place? After all, the legacy of their beloved franchise was already tarnished by the prequels! Who would direct? Are the rumours of Spielberg donning the director’s cap true? Would the movies follow the storylines of the expanded universe (the novels and the games)? Would Lucas be penning the stories?

Then the announcements started. One expertly planned bombshell after the other. Master Sci-Fi expert and Franchise Reviver Supreme – J.J. Abrams was on board to direct, fresh off the successful resuscitation of the other ‘Star’ franchise which must not be named. The maestro John Williams was back in the conductor’s role and so was Lawrence Kasdan with the pen. Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fischer were all returning to reprise their iconic roles of Han, Luke and Leia respectively! Abrams was going to shoot the movie old school with minimum use of CGI.

Then the set photos of the life size X-wing and Millenium Faclon models were released! Fans trepidation vanished and the Star Wras frenzy was back to full throttle.

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New Rebel Leader – J.J. Abrams

But in all this hullaballoo one very important fact was largely ignored.

George Lucas and Star Wars were no longer intertwined entities. They had gone their separate ways. Although Disney promised that they would stick to the strict template laid down by Lucas they discarded all story ideas suggested by him. It was painful to watch as the man responsible for creating the very movie that got most of the involved players (especially Abrams who is a self-confessed Star wars fanatic) into the movie business in the first place was now politely but firmly shown the door. The only option left was for Lucas to turn his back on his baby, his sack of billions of dollars slung over shoulder and walk away in his Nike trainers into the sunset like Indy in ‘The Last Crusade’.

Most fans were ecstatic that he was no longer involved. I for one wasn’t.

As Episode VII inched closer and closer to release, excitement started reaching peak levels. I wasn’t around when the original Star Wars, Empire and Jedi first released so I would never know how fan anticipation was back then but I was part of the excitement that led up to the release of Episode I. Here we were again.

Things had changed since then though.

In the late 70s and 80s the first incarnation of Star Wars fandom was all about pitching tents outside box office windows and waiting for days in line to get a hold of tickets. During the early 00s the second incarnation was all about going to watch some obscure movie starring Brad Pitt just to catch the trailer of the new Star Wars movie and coming out of the theatre after the trailer was over. It was also the first time a movie trailer was featured online and people went berserk. (This was actually another way Lucas changed the movies). The present incarnation of Star Wars fandom was a completely different beast, the internet being the major differentiating factor. The present day fan pored over the 1 minute teaser trailer ad-nauseum. They posted videos of their own reactions watching the teaser. They obsessed over the next trailer that released and then again at trailer number 2. Each new trailer would be followed by hundreds of fan videos showing themselves bursting into tears of joy watching the return of their favourite characters. In the present day you hadn’t really watched Star Wars unless you let the rest of the world know that you did! The present day fan also had the tremendously difficult task of avoiding internet spoilers like the plague. It’s not easy being a film fan in the 2010s.

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But what about the movie itself? Episode VII released on Decmber 19th 2015 to rave reviews (It sits pretty at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.) and mindblowing Box Office. It shattered all records before it to become the highest grossing movie of all time in the international markets and the 2nd highest grossing movie of all time in America, just behind James Cameron’s Avatar. Most importantly it reinstated fans’ belief in the saga. People loved what they saw. New worlds, new characters (no Jar Jar), old favourites returning, minimal use of CGI and great action sprinkled with humour. It was amazing to see a whole new generation of kids fall in love with these characters. J.J. had pulled off the greatest heist in Hollywood with aplomb, nimbly balancing nostalgia with a fresh new direction.

I thoroughly enjoyed Star Wars Episode VII. But this time it wasn’t the same. I had enjoyed The Avengers and Pirates of the Caribbean and the likes as well. Star Wars was always a different kind of bond though, and this time I just didn’t feel it.

Firstly, it was constantly tugging at the back of my mind that this wasn’t the story George Lucas wanted to tell when he first wrote down his grand ideas on paper. I could somehow feel his absence. Just as Luke sees Obi Wan’s Force apparition after his death I could imagine Lucas out there somewhere contemplating how life had turned a complete 180. Secondly, I was very upset with one extremely important scene in the movie. It involved the killing off of one of the most iconic characters in Film history. Abrams and Disney and Ford himself defended their choice by saying it would add emotional heft to the story but to me it felt wrong. This is a character in whom people have invested decades of emotions and now, without even the involvement of the man who gave birth to him they decided it was time to go!

The last diluent of my bond with the saga was the fact that Disney was planning to churn out more and more Star Wars films every year until God knows when. The Saga had now become a Franchise! When you go to bed you want to feel content that the Empire was vanquished by the brave group of rebels and that good always prevails over evil. As fireworks went off around the galaxy and Ewoks, Wookies and Humans alike celebrated, fans celebrated too. Now we learn that the scum and villainy of the Empire lives on through the First Order. Will the Galaxy never have a happy ending? And no, Star Wars isn’t real life so let’s not get into that argument!

 

Hopefully my partial disillusionment with the new direction of things will be resolved soon. There’s absolutely no doubt that I will be one of the millions lining up to watch Star Wars spinoff – ‘Rogue One’ when it’s out and I definitely will stick around through Episodes VIII and IX. But I wish that one day the bond I once shared with the Galaxy Far, Far Away will become as strong as it was before I was turned to the Dark Side!

 

Hopefully one day George Lucas will once again be remembered as the visionary he truly is.

 

I will always adore you George!

May the Force Forever Be With You!

lucas genius

AND THEN SHE WAS GONE… (15.12.2015)

DSC_0107For every Brother, Mother, Father who has had to witness his/her Sister, Daughter move away from home…

AND THEN SHE WAS GONE…

There are moments in life that you see coming from a mile away, like a truck hurtling towards you on a narrow road with its lights on full beam; moments that you brace yourself for for days, months, years; moments that you know deep down are inevitable; but when they finally arrive, the impact is still akin to being hit with a bag of bricks! In these situations I would love to do a Captain Jack Sparrow and say “I love those moments! I like to wave at them as they pass by!” but alas, life isn’t that easy!

Before your imagination goes anywhere too morbid let me do some clarifying…

I am the bada bhai of a pyaari behen! A pyaari behen who has recently been wedded.

The moment I am describing is that moment when I willingly hand over my sister into someone else’s life!

 

Please don’t be mistaken. This is a very happy, important time in our lives! And to make it even better, my saala is someone I’ve been calling saale (and kutte, kameene and other variants) for more than 10 years; my best friend.

His family is wonderful and they treat their bahu like their own daughter.

But still!

 

As I stood by the mandap and witnessed the man who has come to overtake me and Dad as the most important man in her life, tie the knot and stake claim to her as his own I could no longer hold back the tear that had been threatening to escape all night long. That tear was composed of a never before felt mix of utmost joy and extreme sorrow. As I made a hopeless attempt to hide the tear and blame it on a fly that was bugging me I started to pull out some memories from the recesses of my mind. Memories spent with that beautiful, smart, talented, brave, caring girl who became the apple of my eye the moment I laid eyes on her 23 years ago!!!

 

Yea! I still remembered it like it was yesterday! This tiny little blob wrapped in a bundle of blankets. I remembered going into the Liverpool Hospital room determined to be angry with this creature who was the cause of Mom’s pain and sleepless nights for months, but failing miserably as soon as I saw her. I remembered Mom telling me to meet my little sister.

I couldn’t believe it. I was a 4 year old kid and suddenly I had this moving, laughing, crying thing that was all my very own!!!

 

I absolutely doted on my new toy, sitting for hours with her and being fascinated with her responses to the many different ways I would call her name.

She resembled Tweety Bird, because of her big head and huge eyes and more so when she began to talk – more of a high pitched chirp! The earliest words I remember her saying were “Baba! Baba! Baba!” whenever she saw Dad, though I wouldn’t have been surprised if one day she would have suddenly said “I thought I thaw a Puddy Tat!!!”

 Kav and I

As the years rolled on we realised that this girl was truly different and special. I mean, even her earliest form of locomotion was not a regular baby crawl! She would get around the house shuffling on her bottom – we named it the Bum Shuffle! She would Bum-Shuffle around picking up any object within her limited reach and she would go and stash them in the kitchen under the sink!

 

I wiped away any traces of sadness on my face just in time as she gave me a glance and smiled. I smiled back feebly and thought of how we used to always hang out together.

 

We were inseparable! Watching T.V., listening to music, decorating the Christmas tree in our Santa hats, watching more T.V., playing video games – everything was always together.

 

I remembered the first time we had to stay apart.

 

She was a bona fide chatterbox from the very beginning and she was just what my Film Director Uncle was looking for for his new movie based on children so he whisked her away to India, when she was a mere 3 years old and I tagged along to give her company.

Back in India we both lived in separate homes with different cousins. It was initially horrible for me to stay away from her but I slowly got used to it as people around me ridiculed me for being so protective and attached to her.

I remembered the overwhelming accolades she won (not least, a National Award from the President of India himself!) when the movie released and the first pangs of jealousy I felt towards my own little sister as she became the toast of the town.

I remembered the time she, hardly 5 years old, noticed my pathetic feeling of envy when an old couple at a party was gushing about her and how, instead of basking in the warm glow of the limelight, she told them “this is my brother! He acted in the movie too!”; my role was hardly 5 minutes long and she was the main star! That was the last time I ever felt anything other than pride for her achievements!

 

I glanced over to my Director Uncle as he watched smiling at his protégé all grown up and ready to take on a new role in her life.

As the mandatory mantras continued and the beautiful couple tried to repeat after the far more experienced and Sanskrith-eloquent pujari, my journey down memory lane chugged on.

 

I remembered the worst 3 years of our lives! The years of her horrible hip problem. The years when she couldn’t walk without the help of crutches and had to be carried up the stairs to reach home every day. She, the daughter of one of the most renowned orthopaedic surgeons in the country.

I remembered our helplessness and our wavering faith in God during those years.

The innumerable days she had to spend in physiotherapy in severe, unbearable pain but never shedding a tear lest we see her and get upset! Her emotional and physical strength and thoughtfulness in the face of overwhelming odds!

I thought back on the shortlived  joy we felt after her first surgery and the utmost grief when the pain came back again!

 

I thanked God for reinstating our faith in Him by introducing us to His incarnation, the Surgeon who finally diagnosed her rare problem and cured her with the second surgery! I looked over at him as he sat with his family and watched her comfortably walk the seven pheras around the sacred fire with her partner of the next seven lives and I silently thanked him again!

 

I tried to cheer myself up a little by reminding myself that it wasn’t the first time she was leaving home.

 

She had strived hard and gotten herself into the prestigious Manipal University to study Medicine. That was the first time she actually moved away and I couldn’t bear to see her go.

I could still recollect her phone call just 2 days after joining there and the panic I felt when I heard her sobbing. I recall that panic turning into rage when she told me some seniors were bullying her. I thought back on how stupid my reaction was; to just get into the car with the driver and drive for 12 straight hours to reach her, just so that I could hug her and tell her everything would be OK. I remembered then proceeding to the one sure-fire way of cheering the both of us up – going to watch a movie together!

 

As the newly-wed couple proceeded to place the leashes around each other’s necks (oops… i meant garlands) I looked at them with pure affection.

 

I could recall vividly – his phone call to me one day out of the blue. He said he had to tell me something important. I was busy so told him to call later but he very uncharacteristically called back immediately and told me it couldn’t wait. I started to suspect it had something to do with a girl and was quite intrigued because he wasn’t the kind who fell for girls as frequently as the rest of us! He had a steady head and had control over his feelings at all times. But very soon my excitement turned into an uncontrollable fit of rage when he told me who his new girlfriend was! I mean there’s ONE rule in the book and he had broken it! I was hurt and felt betrayed by two of the most important people in my life! I couldn’t believe that my baby sister had grown up so much and it took me time to stomach the fact!

But in due course I did simmer down; enough to even calm down Dad who reacted similarly.

 

Now, as I looked at the two of them with Dad also shedding a silent tear next to me, we felt grateful that my Best Friend blatantly ignored The One Rule 2 years ago!

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I couldn’t fathom what would have happened to us had She gotten married to some stranger or someone who lived in another city let alone another country!

Now, things would almost be the same as before. Anyway we all kept meeting almost every day and would meet at work too. He also promised us that he would bring her Home at least every Sunday for lunch and they would come and stay at home for a week every month. Yea! Things would be great! I got a smile back on my face and expelled all sad thoughts as we proceeded to the dance floor!

 

And then the next day came the watershed (and water-works!) moment! The moment I spoke about at the beginning. The moment when we had to drive her to her new abode! The first to lose composure was Mom which led to a chain reaction – My Sister, Dad and finally myself. I slinked off into the adjacent room to make sure nobody could see me and re-emerged only after 5 whole minutes.

 

We managed to drop her off and get back home but home hasn’t been home ever since!

 

It just doesn’t feel complete! When we walk into her room and her bed is made up perfectly without her books lying all over it just kills us inside!

 

Why does it have to be this way? Why does the girl have to leave behind her family and home after marriage? Why can’t there be a drawing of lots to decide who stays and who shifts? That would be fair right?

It’s like Mufasa tells Simba in the masterpiece ‘The Lion King’;- “It’s the Circle of Life, and we all have to take our place in it and make our peace with it.”

 

I will slowly make my peace with it.

 

Well, I’ve got to go now. I have to pick up my Sister and my Brother in Law. We’re getting late for our movie.

Ciao!

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THANK YOU…. AND FAREWELL…. (16.11.2013)

Tendulkar_closupAs we enter the third year of Sachin-less cricket tomorrow and after watching him smash a scintillating half century in an exhibition T20 match in LA, I look back upon that day… the day my generation will always mourn… the day Sachin retired… Reposting an article I wrote that day; I know almost everyone would have felt the same.

THANK YOU…. AND FAREWELL….

Wankhede Stadium, South Mumbai, on the 15th of November 2013, was witness to a smorgasbord of emotions; some familiar sights mixed with the never-before-seen; nostalgia and joy clubbed with grief and longing; deafening noise alternating with pin drop silence. It was a proper khichdi of feelings; or to go all out Mumbaiyya – a bhel of emotions.

Let’s start with the familiar. There was a sense of déjà vu when a quarter of the spectators left the stadium after a certain number 4 batsman lost his wicket. It felt like days of yore (the 90s to be precise) when that one wicket would lead to the switching off of television sets and recommencement of work around the country.

Over the last 10 odd years, thanks to a more than able outfit of youngsters who have come to the fore, this over-dependence on that one man had slowly begun to evaporate; for the good of the game of course. That’s not to say his importance in the team was in any way diminished; in fact, with the overwhelming burden of carrying the whole team on his own shoulders lifted, he has been able to play some truly joyous (and many a time, match-winning) cricket in the latter part of his career.

Of course you know who I’m talking about… the one and only Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. And unless you’ve been living in a tree somewhere in the Amazon jungle, you would also be privy to the fact that this was the last time the Little Master would ever pick up his bat to represent his country.

The Sachin on display today was the same Sachin who raked up all those tens of thousands of runs so effortlessly in the past. Not the ghost of himself who was wearing his jersey over the last one year. It was vintage Tendulkar. There was the trademark straight drive, the paddle sweep, the cover drive… everything that had us eating out of his hands over the last 24 years was back.

And the atmosphere was electrifying! It was like a 4D movie experience with my seat vibrating because of the sound. Every single taken by our hero was cheered on like a World Cup winning run. I didn’t know there were so many different ways to chant Sachin’s name.

But then, at 10.34 am, a deathly silence fell over the Wankhede, like a thick blanket was thrown on top of it from the heavens above.

Sachin, who was in scintillating touch, rocked back in his crease for a Deonarine delivery and played a late cut which went straight to the opposition captain Darrel Sammy who was lurking in the slips. He held onto a sharp catch and before you knew it Sach was making his last, long walk back to the pavilion. For the last time! Ever!

That was the precise moment that the weight of the moment truly hit me! For months together we’ve been reading about Sachin retiring from ODIs, IPL, announcing his retirement from Tests etc. But this was it! It was over!

We just stared in horror as our Hero made his way back.

It was a deafening silence. I had once heard a line in a love song in which the singer sings of “20,000 watts ka sannata” (20,000 watts of silence). Today I actually experienced it. Believe me, in a stadium filled to the brim, with more than 34,000 people inside, you could hear a pin drop.

I imagine this is something close to what J. K. Rowling had imagined when she was writing the chapter in the Goblet of Fire in which the Dementors sweep onto the Quidditch pitch and suck the happiness out of the thousands present in the stands.

Yes, we were slightly disappointed that he didn’t bow out with another triple digit score, especially as he was so tantalisingly close, but it was the sheer thought of not being able to see him come out on the ground with his pads on again that really brought tears to the eyes. And believe me, there was not a single dry eye in the stadium.

Kohli came along, and as is nowadays his wont, immediately started showing off his superlative skills with some excellent boundaries. Nobody cared. Pujara, who has really made a good case for himself as a deserved successor to Dravid in the test line-up, scored an excellent century. Nobody cared. Kohli scored yet another half century. Nobody cared. Dhoni came and went. Nobody cared.

This is the part that I was referring to as something I had never seen before as an Indian cricket fan. No cheering from the crowd when boundaries were being hit? No cheers when an Indian scores a century? For the first time in my life I saw the crowd cheering the fall of Indian wickets! We wanted a collapse! We wanted a comeback from West Indies! We wanted a second innings! We wanted just a few more moments with our hero!

But that was not to be.

It took an excellent innings by another Mumbaikar, Mr. Rohit Sharma, to inject some excitement back into the crowd, with an entertaining century accompanied by the tail.

And I realised… life will go on. It may never be the same, but it will go on nonetheless.

But it’s hard to imagine how! Ever since I was a child the word ‘cricket’ was always associated with Tendulkar. Even though I started a little later than my friends in true fandom (growing up in England where following Beckham or Thierry Henry was way cooler than following Sachin or Lara), I still knew what Sachin meant to the game and the country. Even the blissfully cricket ignorant will be able to at least name Sachin in relation to the sport.

But now there will be no Sachin.

It’s like chocolate chip cookies without milk (Oh, the horror!!!!). Like Pokemon without Pikachu. Like Mani Ratnam without Rahman. Like tennis without Federer (Let’s hope that comes a little later because 2 mighty blows in succession could kill me!).

As I sat there in silence watching Sachin riding off into the sunset I couldn’t shake that feeling of grief. It was akin to the feeling I had when my wonderful grandmother had passed on years ago. Knowing that she would never hold my hand and affectionately call me “Useless Fellow” again.

Memories flashed by in my mind. I’m not the most cricket literate of fans, as in I wouldn’t be able to recall off the top of my mind against whom he scored his 38th century and all, but I do recall random memories from my childhood.

Playing trump cards with my friends. Everyone knew that The trump card was that of Sachin. With every other player we would have to read out his strongest stat. Like Saeed Anwar – highest score, Brett Lee – fastest ball etc. But whoever had The Sachin card would just say his name and everyone would just resign to their fates and begrudgingly hand over all their cards.

I remember the good old nineties when we would attend dinners at some family friend’s place or the other and there would always be a match on in the background on TV and the elders, who love to give their 2 cents, would complain about how inconsistent Ganguly is or how slow Dravid is, how terrible a fielder Srinath is (all unwarranted of course). But I would never hear anything but praise for the Little Master. Match after match he would pull the team out from the chasm of defeat and would claim his man of the match trophy.

SachinIt was during the latter part of the nineties when I recall that the people had started to get a little bored of saying that Sachin was their favourite. Come on! Sachin is everyone’s favourite.  But he was just too consistently good! It had become cliché to say you were his fan. It was a given. So kids like me started to look for others to call our favourite. I would say Dravid and my best friend would say Ganguly. Which is the truth! I truly love Dravid and someone would probably be a die-hard fan of Kumble or Sourav. But that was always a position jointly held by Tendulkar!

The latter half of the new millennium was the truly frustrating time for the Sachin Fan. Not in terms of form. He was in rollicking form. But in having to deal with moronic cynics who had started this balderdash about how Sachin is a selfish player and how none of his great innings ever won the match for the country! It’s so infuriating to hear such nonsense! I just feel like throwing a book of stats at these guys and telling them to read up some hard facts for once!

Anyway, back to the present.

It’s scary and heartbreaking to acknowledge that the Golden Era of Indian Cricket has finally come to a full stop.

All our beloved heroes, who we have literally grown up with, have hung up their gloves and boots.

Jumbo, Dada, Jammy, Lacchu Bhai have all left behind a vaccuum. With the news of the new BCCI contracts, Zak, Viru and Bhajji are probably on the way too.

But the final blow is the hardest to take. After 24 years of sheer joy given to the country and the world our dear Sachin has said goodbye!

Fortunately the new generation seems to have it in them to match these stalwarts. With Dhoni and Yuvi being the bridge between these two generations, we also have the likes of Kohli, Rohit, Dhawan, Pujara, Bhuvaneshwar, Ashwin who have all shown that they are capable of at least trying to fill in the gaps left behind by the greats. It is quite poignant that it’s in Sachin’s final test series that the boy touted as the next Tendulkar actually rose to the occasion and scored back to back centuries. I hope these boys carry the baton well and with as much dignity as those before them.

I shudder to imagine that my kids would probably not know about the true greatness of Sachin, the same way we have only heard of the greatness of Bradman or even Kapil Dev and Gavaskar.

What will cricket do without Sachin??? More importantly, what will Sachin do without cricket???

We love you Sach!

Thank You… and Farewell…

Adarsh Annapareddy

Sach

RAMBLIN’ ABOUT AMBLIN – CHAPTER 1 (17.10.2015)

spielberg-charicature-jpgHey everyone. Yesterday I went to watch old man Steve’s ‘Bridge of Spies’… and as expected it was brilliant! Also, with next week ushering in the date that Marty McFly travels to in the future (Oct 21st 2015) in Back to the Future Part II, I guess there’s no better time than now to post this tribute to The Man Spielberg…

RAMBLIN’ ABOUT AMBLIN

CHAPTER 1

INTRO

Back when we were kids, my cousins, Vihi and Abhi, and I used to go swimming almost every week. One sunny day, Vihi (that mischievous git; God bless him!) decided to play a prank on poor, unassuming Abhi.

He was a good swimmer and swam well underwater. Abhi was just lazing around near the pool edge as Vihi stealthily swam up to him under the surface and suddenly grabbed his leg.

Abhi let out a horrendous scream and, wrought with fear, absolutely refused to get into the pool after that!

Or any pool for that matter!

For the next 5 years!!!

A little further back in time, I used to have two recurrent, extremely vivid dreams.

In the first dream I would be lying in my bed right next to the bedroom window which was on the 7th floor of an apartment complex. I would stare with a mounting sense of dread at the window, waiting for the same sight I had dreamt a hundred nights before already. The sight of a humongous creature with malicious, reptilian eyes…

It would slowly reach the window and peek its right eye inside while I tried to become one with the mattress below me, holding my breath until the eye moved away to the next house.

The second dream would always start with me having to reach into a dark crevice in a wall to retrieve a key for some unexplained reason. As soon as my hand disappeared into the darkness of the crevice I would feel thousands of creepy-crawlies inside, creeping and crawling, slithering all over! I would retract my hand immediately in horror, clutching the key but the repulsive insects of all shapes and sizes would burst out of the crevice and start filling up the dungeon-like room I was standing in, forcing me to shut my mouth as tight as possible lest they find a resting spot next to my uvula! They would come out in swarms until almost every square inch of the room was covered by a grotesque, moving carpet and the only space left for the creatures to occupy was in my ears. It was at this precise moment that I would wake up with a start every time!

When I was a little older there were times when I would stop eating my cereal and just stare at the far end of the room, waiting earnestly, hoping even, to see my future self dart around the corner and come and warn me about something that I should avoid doing later in my life (this was around the same time that my mother was a little worried for my mental health!).

All these incidents and anecdotes may seem mighty random and incoherent, like an amateur trying in vain to emulate a Tarantino screenplay, but believe me, there is a common thread between them.

A common factor responsible for each of these events and memories.

That common factor is in fact a person.

That person is Steven Spielberg….

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Jaws
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Jurassic Park
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Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom
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Back To The Future Part II

Steven Spielberg!

Dino DNA
Jurassic Park

He needs no introduction. Even someone who has never seen a single Spielberg movie in his life (is that even possible???) knows that his name is intricately bound to the medium of cinema like the two strands of a Dino DNA!

A group of friends meet after a long time and one of the blokes whips out his phone/camera and starts to film their shenanigans. His pal ribs “Ae!!! Khud ko Speilsberg samajhra hai kya???” (Hey man!!! Do you think you’re Speilsberg or something???)

He doesn’t need to know that the man he just compared his friend to is the most commercially successful film director and producer of all time! Heck, he doesn’t even know how to pronounce his name! All he knows is that when you talk movies, you talk Spielberg!

This man has amassed more than 9 billion dollars worldwide in movies he has directed and another 15 billion dollars in movies he has produced. He has collected 3 Oscars and has had numerous more nominations. 3 of his directed movies (Jaws, E.T. and Jurassic Park) held the prestigious position of ‘Highest Grossing Movie of All Time’ at their respective periods of release. In the 29 years from 1975 (Jaws) to 2015, 9 of the years had Spielberg movies as the highest grossing of that particular year (including this year’s Jurassic World).

But all these numbers aside… Spielberg has been responsible for some of the most beautiful, heartbreaking, nerve-wrecking, awe-inspiring, gut-wrenching, mindboggling and ultimately unforgettable moments ever put on film!

The images that come to mind as soon as his name is mentioned are many… A woman swimming in the sea suddenly starts getting jerked around by some unknown menace under the surface as 2 eery piano notes are repeated till they reach a terrifying crescendo; a boy and his alien friend ride a bicycle into the sky, seemingly with the power imparted to them by the soaring violin score, framed against the mesmerising backdrop of the moon; a gigantic alien ship communicates with humans through a 5-note tune and a blinding flash of colours; a rugged man with an awesome fedora, a golden idol and oodles of swagger barely escapes death as he outruns a huge rolling boulder; ripples appear on the surface of water in a glass as a low rumbling is heard in the distance, whose gradual increase in decibels is inversely proportional to the number of breaths the audience takes; an innocent little girl walks unknowingly amongst the carnage taking place around her, her red robe in stark contrast with the black and white rendering of the rest of the film; an aerial shot of a group of travellers in a field of tall grass as they are stalked by dreaded predators, whose presence is indicated only by the trails of falling grass converging around them; a 20 minute sequence of bloody mayhem, so realistic it takes us as close to World War II as ever possible, as we feel every bullet that whizzes by and pray that we just survive the next few minutes….

The mere fact that there are so many different images that jump to mind proves that he is a constant and enduring genius!

This man has caused our minds to soar to places we’ve never imagined possible!

So let’s get this straight… I LOVE Spielberg and his movies! Every single one of them! Even the obscure ones that no-one has even heard of, let alone seen!

Shirts
Evolution of Fashion!
DVD (1)
My Spielberg DVD, Blu-Ray and Book Collection

He and his Band of Merry Men including the legendary John Williams, the maestro who has composed music for almost every movie Spielberg ever made and whose tunes automatically accompany fond recollections of the aforementioned scenes, Kathleen Kennedy, friend and regular co-producer, Michael Kahn who has cut together most of Spielberg’s movies and Janusz Kamiński, his frequent collaborator with the camera, among others, have consistently thrilled and wowed audiences across generations.

Spielberg’s appeal isn’t confined to a single demographic or age because the spectrum of genres that he has attempted and mastered is so wide and eclectic that it is astounding! It’s hard to believe that the same man who made Jaws and Jurassic Park also made Schindler’s List and Lincoln, Indiana Jones, The Terminal, The Colour Purple etc.

This said, a close observer (and die-hard fans) will always be able to tell that they’re watching a movie made by The Beard (an affectionate and appropriate nickname). No matter what the overall theme of the movie is, you are usually exposed to some classic Spielberg Tropes. Ordinary people in extraordinary situations, usually children (hence most of his child protagonists being classified as Spielberg’s Lost Boys), terrific performances from these children, father issues, suburban settings, a dash of sentimentality (a severe bone of contention for some people but not me; what’s wrong in having a happy ending???), beautiful use of lighting, unlikely friendships, the overcoming of barriers of language and communication, the look of amazement on the protagonist’s face as they stare awestruck at something wondrous/terrifying before we have the privilege of seeing it for ourselves (the Spielberg Stare)…

But it wasn’t just the movies directed by Spielberg which captured the imagination of the people. In 1981 Spielberg formed his company ‘Amblin Entertainment’ named after his own short film Amblin’. Under this banner he has produced hordes of movies and TV shows to great success. There was a time during the eighties when going for an Amblin Movie was akin to going to watch a Disney Movie, as in, even if the movie wasn’t directly made by the respective auteur himself, his name on the credits roll guaranteed a degree of quality and entertainment.

So let’s cut to the chase. My worship of all things Spielberg prompted me, 6 months ago, to embark on a long and exciting journey.

I decided to watch every single movie directed by The Berg (another affectionate moniker) in order of release along with a handful he has produced. Watching every movie he has ever produced would be too huge an undertaking so I restricted the list to those movies which, though not directed by Spielberg himself, have a definite level of involvement from him and share such a close relationship to his own work that they have to be considered ‘Spielberg Films’.

The list of movies in order is:

  1. Amblin (1968)
  2. Duel (1971)
  3. The Sugarland Express (1974)
  4. Jaws (1975)
  5. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
  6. 1941 (1979)
  7. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  8. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
  9. Poltergeist* (1982)
  10. Twilight Zone: The Movie*^ (1983)
  11. Gremlins* (1984)
  12. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
  13. Back to the Future* (1985)
  14. The Color Purple (1985)
  15. The Goonies* (1985)
  16. Empire of the Sun (1987)
  17. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?* (1988)
  18. Always (1989)
  19. Back to the Future Part II* (1989)
  20. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
  21. Back to the Future Part III* (1990)
  22. Gremlins 2: The New Batch* (1990)
  23. Hook (1991)
  24. Jurassic Park (1993)
  25. Schindler’s List (1993)
  26. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
  27. Amistad (1997)
  28. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
  29. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
  30. Jurassic Park III* (2001)
  31. Minority Report (2002)
  32. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
  33. The Terminal (2004)
  34. War of the Worlds (2005)
  35. Munich (2005)
  36. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
  37. Super 8* (2011)
  38. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
  39. War Horse (2011)
  40. Lincoln (2012)
  41. Jurassic World* (2015)
  42. Bridge of Spies (2015)

(* = movies not directed by Spielberg.

 ^ = movies having multiple directors. Spielberg directed the ‘Kick the Can’ segment of this movie.)

That’s a whopping 30 movies directed by Spielberg, 11 produced by him (but quintessential ‘Spielberg Movies’ nevertheless) and 1 anthology movie containing a segment directed by Spielberg.

The Spielbergathon was an amazing experience that culminated yesterday with his latest release ‘Bridge Of Spies’ (his fourth collaboration with Tom Hanks; fifth if you include the Band of Brothers TV series which they produced together).

Over the next few months I will keep updating my thoughts and feelings and interesting facts about each of these movies as separate chapters corresponding to each era of his filmmaking career.

As Sheriff Brody would say – “You’re gonna need a bigger page!!!”

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“RISHTEY MEIN TOH HUM TUMHAARE BAAP HOTE HAIN!” (02.10.2015)

Mahatma Gandhi lostWishing you all a happy and peaceful Gandhi Jayanti…

“RISHTEY MEIN TOH HUM TUMHAARE BAAP HOTE HAIN!”

October 2nd 2015.

Today is the birthday of 2 very important people in my life!

The first is the father of our nation. The man in whose name today is celebrated as a holiday and due to which I consequently have the time to write this tribute. Our Bapuji Mahatma Gandhi. Today is his 146th Birthday.

The second is the father of my father. My granddad. Thathayya, as I call him, turns 82 today, but, believe you me, he just seems to get more handsome by the year!

Because both of these amazing men were born on the same auspicious date I have the opportunity to write about the influence the both of them have had on my life.

Let’s start off with the senior – Gandhiji. There is no need to write in detail about the amazing things this man had achieved in his sadly brief lifetime. I just wanted to highlight my association with him!

Mohandas_K._Gandhi,_portraitMy formative years were spent in the very Britain against whose rule Ghandhiji had fought so vehemently and vigorously but never violently!

By theory then, growing up I should never have known of the man who inspired a nation to stand up for what was rightfully theirs.

But fortunately that wasn’t the case. I was taught about Bapuji by my parents, by movies, by Thathayya and, ironically in school as well! His influence and his inspirational teachings have transcended all boundaries of culture and geography and are revered and taught everywhere and by everyone including the descendants of the very people he stood up to.

I was also lucky that I was taught in much more detail about Gandhi after our family shifted back to India. All his contributions to the Freedom Struggle were elaborately documented in our History text books and we were taught all about the Dandi March, the Quit India Movement, the Non Co-operation Movement, Swaraj and his assassination by Nathuram Godse.

Basically I was brought up believing that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was like a God to all Indians.

It was only in my later teens that I encountered the sizeable number of people who were not entirely enamoured by Gandhiji. It was shocking for me at first when I heard a friend telling me that he hated Gandhi! It was a sentiment I had not ever experienced prior to that.

I began to realise that, ironically, the almost God-like stature given to this man was more unanimous outside India than within.

Look at the irony. The defining movie made about his life and teachings, ‘Gandhi’ was directed by a Britisher, Richard Attenborough and starred another Britisher, Ben Kingsley, both of whom went on to win Oscars for the same.

My utter shock at this indignation prompted me to probe further and ask why this particular friend hated him. He told me that he didn’t believe in his notion of Non-violence and that he believed in the methods of Subhash Chandrabose and Bhagat Singh. I do hear this argument a lot nowadays accompanied with complaints of having Gandhiji’s face on our currency notes rather than these other freedom fighters.

Well, to that I would say, why love one and hate the other? Though the methods were vastly different both schools had one ultimate goal and purpose – freedom for our country. When a child climbs the gate outside his house despite repeated warnings from his parents not to, and falls and hurts himself his father would first whack him on the bottom and then apply a band-aid but his mother would take him into her arms and comfort him first. Both of them have only one intention – not letting their child be harmed; and he should never have to choose whom he loves more for it. I truly love Bhagat Singh and his band of allies as much as I do Bapuji and I would also be very happy if our notes had all of their faces on them but it doesn’t need to be a point of resentment towards Gandhi. In fact, I myself don’t entirely agree with Gandhi’s  ideology of showing the opposite cheek when slapped, but it’s his intentions and his sacrifices for the country that make me adore him so.

Other naysayers tell me that Gandhi was an opportunist and that he wasn’t as pious as he made himself out to be. Well, to each his own, but I for one prefer to give the man who renounced a normal, comfortable life for the sake of his people and his motherland, the benefit of doubt. When people can somehow (astonishingly!) seem to forgive a man like Yakub Memon who was responsible for the lives of hundreds of innocent people I find no shame at all in accepting the fact that maybe my Bapuji wasn’t perfect but definitely gave his life so that I can sit here in the freedom of my home and exercise my right to freedom of thought and speech.

But whether you like Gandhiji or not, the present state of our country would probably make him sadder than can be! Where is our freedom when our own government believes that it needs to tell us what to eat and what not to eat! What to watch in the solitutde of our own homes.

And even worse, just a day before we celebrate non-violence on Gandhi Jayanti we read about a fanatical Hindu mob lynching a man to death because he allegedly had some beef at home!

It’s pathetic! Disgusting! Revolting!

On a more hopeful note though, last week, my dad and I visited a small town called Challapalli where a large group of people, led by two inspiring doctors, wake up every single morning at 4 and go about sweeping the roads and cleaning the drainages and ultimately making a valiant effort to keep their home clean. And they do all of this taking inspiration from the great man himself.

So I guess all is not lost! But it makes me wonder “when was the last time I did something for my country? When these busy people can do such wonderful things just taking inspiration from Bapuji why can’t I?”

This bit of introspection brings my thoughts to another man I adore, who is much closer home to me…

My grandfather, Dr. Satynarayana Reddy.

Manampareddys

As Gandhi Jayanti was always celebrated on his birthday and because, as far back as I can remember Thatha had his crop of white hair and thick rimmed glasses, he was always like my personal Gandhi Thatha! He taught me so much about values and morals ever since I was a kid and many of his teachings were directly from those of Gandhiji.

When we were younger he and my grandmother (Nayanamma) would look after my sister Kavya and myself when our parents were striving away at their respective careers. Thatha had come to stay with us in England for a few months and in that short time taught me how to read and write Telugu (my mother tongue) and read to me about Ramayana and Mahabharath and all the Hindu Gods, lest we forget our roots.

It was always fun with him and Nayanamma around and after we shifted back to India we always made it a point to go and visit them in their town of Guntur as often as possible.

Thathayya is a great believer and promoter of education. He believes (rightly so) that whatever we have achieved as a family in the last 70 years is solely because of the importance given to education; that he imparted to his 3 sons and siblings and them to their respective children.

He was born 82 years ago to an averagely wealthy farmer but as he was growing up his family fortunes were quickly dwindling away. He was the first boy from his village of Sattenpally to attend school. Though he failed his intermediate (12th standard) exams, he bounced back and completed his BSc and MSc in Agriculture. Later on he travelled to the United States and did a PhD in Entomology.

Eventually Thathayya taught Agriculture in the Agriculture University of Andhra Pradesh (one of his students was his own son, my own baap, who never finished his Agriculture studies and went on to become a doctor in medicine instead; but that’s a different story altogether!). Thatha later became the Principal of the Agriculture college and later on the Dean of Entomology.

In a nutshell – this is a man who gives tremendous importance to learning and teaching.

Thatha

Unfortunately over the last 10 years he has developed a worrying habit of worrying about everything! Sometimes he worries that there’s nothing to worry about! He was the first person that came to my mind when I watched Amitabh Bacchhan in ‘Piku’ when he frets that all his blood reports are absolutely normal!

One day he walks up to my sister, who is a doctor, and borrows her Pathology text book. Within half an hour he had diagnosed himself with Leukaemia!

6 months ago, disaster struck our family as Nayanamma suffered a severe haemorrhagic stroke, bringing down the normally chirpy, full-of-beans lady to a bed-ridden shadow of herself.

Though we all feel horrible seeing her this way nobody was as badly affected as Thatha! Now both of them live with us in Hyderabad but unfortunately they never leave their room – she, because she can’t and he, because he won’t leave her side.

In the last 6 months Thatha has read more books than he has in his entire lifetime.

Unfortunately, because of our increasingly busy schedules we spend less and less time with Thatha and Nayanamma, even though they live with us now, and this is when they need us the most!

This morning, after a very long time, I took Thathayya to the local Temple and browsed around the various Gods with him as he explained their relation to each other, as he used to when I was 20 years younger and had more time for him.

It felt good to spend some time with him today!

I sincerely wish and hope I do so more often.

In conclusion, I just want to say how much I look up to these men and how awful I feel for letting them down! After all, as Amitabh Bacchhan would put it – “Rishtey Mein Toh Yeh Humaare Baap Hote Hain!

The baap of my country and the baap of my baap!

On this Gandhi Jayanti I pledge that I will take out more time and make more efforts to honour these two baaps!

I Salute you both!

Happy Birthday!

POETRY IN MOTION (15.09.2015)

RFHey Guys! Dedicated to all the Federer Die-Hards out there! A tribute to our Champion!

POETRY IN MOTION

‘Poetry In Motion’. When my father first made me listen to this Golden Oldie from the sixties on one of our long road trips I was merely 5 years old. It was such a catchy tune but I was baffled by the lyrics. I couldn’t make sense of the abstract title hook. How could poetry be in motion??? It doesn’t have a form of itself!

“Poetry in motion, dancing by my side. Her lovely locomotion, keeps my eyes open wide. Poetry in motion, see her gentle sway. A wave out on the ocean, could never move that way!”

I asked dad what it meant and he told me that one day when I’m older, probably around 17 or 18 years old, I’d understand.

He was right in a way. It was in my late teens that I realised how fitting those words could actually be for something astoundingly beautiful. But it wasn’t a girl I had fallen in love with…

I had just discovered the Tennis of one Mr. Roger Federer!

There are few things in the world that can be so appealing to the senses (tactile, visual, taste, aural) that they can actually take your breath away; a first kiss, a lilting A.R. Rahman tune, a bite of warm apple pie coated in vanilla ice cream, a V.V.S. Laxman flick off the pads against a piping hot Australian bowling lineup… and Roger Federer on song!

As a kid I used to go for tennis coaching and used to occasionally watch tennis matches with my parents. Most of the time I remember either Pistol Pete Sampras (Mom’s favourite) or Agassi (Dad’s favourite) playing. Apart from that my only other early memory of really being engrossed in a tennis match was when the wild tempered Wild Card Goran Ivanesivic spectacularly went on to win the Wimbledon Finals in 2001. Other than that most of my tennis knowledge was hearsay. Stories of the epic clashes between the Bjorgs and the McEnroes, the legendary matches of the Beckers and the Edbergs and the Connors’. They were all enthusiastically recited to me by my parents like campfire stories told to wide-eyed, engrossed kids.

But from 2003 onwards I was lucky to have been witness to a completely new kind of awesome! Finally I had a tennis icon who I could call my own! A new hero for a new generation. The last 10 years have given me enough fodder (or can I say ‘Fed’der) for astonishing stories to tell my children and grandchildren (although the presence of the internet and Youtube probably make my role null and void). Stories of incredible passing shots, inside out winners, ‘tweeners, down-the-line winners through the narrowest of corridors and most recently, SABRs. Stories of Career Grand Slams and record number of weeks as World Number 1. Stories of achieving everything there is to achieve in the world of tennis and then some!

Roger had ushered in a whole new style of play into the tennis lexicon. His game was unlike anything ever seen before. It was all about precision. What precision! He started to make angles that were deemed impossible by humans, and regularly at that! Even if he had the whole court open in front of him his shot would still see the ball just licking the outer half of the line! Over and over and over again! He could easily thread the eye of a needle! Heck, if the needle’s eye had a constricted pupil he would probably be able to thread that too!

And I’m not even mentioning his deadly serves, his speed or his brilliant volleys!

His game was just too good to handle and over the next 5 – 6 years he had established an aura of invincibility and hordes of die-hard, adoring fans along with his enviable tally of 17 Singles Grand Slam Titles, a Davis Cup Gold, Olympics Doubles Gold and so on and so forth (not to mention 2 separate sets of twin children!).

Roger_Federer_(26_June_2009,_Wimbledon)_2_(crop-2)

Mark Phillippoussis, Marat Safin, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick, Andre Agassi, Marcos Baghdatis, Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, Fernando Gonzalez, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Robin Soderling, Andy Roddick, Andy Murray, Andy Murray.

The names of all the valiant warriors who were slain on the way to that hitherto unheard of tally of Grand Slam titles.

As Federer himself said a few weeks ago – “the scoring system is awesome in tennis. It’s like you can switch in a heartbeat!” – the guy who invented the scoring system was probably a drunk or an eccentric genius, or both; but you have to admit, Federer was right! A match of tennis is like a microcosm of life itself, fortunes swinging like a pendulum in mere moments. I mean, the guy who wins more points overall in the match can still end up being the loser!

But somehow Roger has managed to maintain his level of play and calm and composure for most of his career (leaving out incidents involving the one true bane of his existence – the Hawkeye Challenges). He wasn’t always that way though! When he first burst onto the scene he was much more emotional and labile than the man we see today. He claims that one day he just decided that he wouldn’t lose his cool on the court anymore, and that was it! No sudden epiphany, no gradual weaning off of his previous outbursts. He just decided and that was it! That just goes to show the kind of stuff this guy is made of!

But unfortunately, in the last few years that aura of invincibility seems to have been slowly chipping away. Maybe he isn’t a God after all!!! I still wouldn’t go as far as to say that he’s a mere human! Demi-God may be more suitable! Probably more Hercules than Zeus.

Although time seems to have forgotten to stake claim to this man’s face and body (not a single wrinkle in sight) his mind seems to be slowly tiring.

Just take a look at this list from Grand Slam Finals which he didn’t manage to clinch:-

Rafael Nadal, Rafael Nadal, Rafael Nadal, Rafael Nadal, Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin del Potro, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Novak Djokovic, Novak Djokovic.

The names of the men who managed to vanquish the man who at one point was deemed undefeatable.

Apart from the lone glimpse of a del Potro in there, there are only 2 other names on the list! The two men who are direct descendants of the Federer era, who, over a period of time have managed to get such a firm grip on Roger’s psyche that there sometimes is a glimpse of panic on his face when he plays them, that used to be reserved for his own opponents.

When people used to talk about the various shots that Federer had in his ‘arsenal’ I used to disagree with the usage of that particular word. It implied that he was a warrior whereas I believed he was more of a wizard, his racquet a wand rather than a mace. But, considering the kinds of battles that we have become accustomed to watching in these Grand Slam Finals (especially the Greatest Match Ever Played – the 2008 Wimbledon Final between Rafa and Roger) I guess it wouldn’t be wrong to compare these champions with the great warriors of yore. If the Centre Court is considered as the Kurukshetra Battlefield I guess it wouldn’t be too far off the mark to consider Federer as Arjuna the master archer whose arrow could pierce the eye of the revolving fish, while blindfolded. And Nadal would probably be Bheema with his powerful helicopter shots akin to a mace and his impenetrable defence a shield. And in the form Djokovic is in right now, mixing the precision of Federer and the speed and defence of Rafa he can only be likened to Krishna – a juggernaut who just cannot be halted!

But of late Federer seems to have likened himself more to the brave prince Abhimanyu. Reaching 10 Grand Slam Finals (apart from the 17 he has already won) is an astonishing feat in itself! But these finals have morphed into a kind of Chakravyuh, our Abhimanyu managing to penetrate them but somehow unable to get back home!

I write this a day after Federer was defeated by Djokovic in the 2015 U.S. Open Finals. I had to wade through a, by now familiar, swamp of disappointment and pain as my hero succumbed to yet another Grand Slam Final defeat.

Roger still gave us glimpses of his true brilliance! When he was 5-2 down in the the 4th set (being down 2 sets to 1) he suddenly unleashed an array of amazing strokes – a backhand whip cross court, an unplayable backhand sliced drop, another down-the-line backhand killer – to break back and hold to bring himself back to 5-4. Even in that final game he fought to 15-40 up on Novak’s serve and gave all of us a glimmer of hope; but as has been his wont in recent times he was unable to convert those 2 break points and the Djoker had once again claimed his prize!

Novak at the moment reminds me of a velociraptor! Not only does he slightly resemble one with his long nose and his seedy eyes and his intimidating snarl when he wins a point, but his speed is unbelievable, chasing down every single ball as if it were his hapless prey and pouncing on his opponent when he gets a whiff of fatigue! Within seconds he devours his victim and goes on to hunt his next!

Unfortunately Djokovic is such a great guy, I can’t really hate him! I can’t unabashedly curse him like I did the Aussies when they beat India in the 2003 Cricket World Cup Finals.

The humility in triumph and defeat that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic show are not to be seen in other champions like Serena Williams. That’s what seperates these true legends from the the almost-greats. The Federers, Tendulkars, Dravids, Messis and the Peles from the Ricky Pontings or the Javed Miandads or the Maradonas.

Well, say what you may but I (and thousands out there) still believe that Federer can win at least another Grand Slam, even if it is against Nole or Rafa. Both of their names appear on the list of people he defeated after all! It’s just a matter of breaking that mental stronghold that they have established over him. It really gets my goat when people don’t show faith in the man who is undeniably the GOAT!

As I sat yesterday and waited in dread for the presentation to commence and for Federer to speak, I held my breath until I heard what I was wishing he would say – “One last thing — I’ll see you guys next year!”

Yes! We will be waiting Roger! Waiting for number 18. Waiting for more!

Up until then let me dedicate that Golden Oldie to you and your tennis –

Poetry in motion, see her gentle sway.
A wave out on the ocean could never move that way.

I love every movement, there’s nothing I would change
She doesn’t need improvement, she’s much too nice to rearrange!”