We often hear people talking very lightly of Indian cinema. I am myself guilty of this crime many a times. Agreed, we have never made a great biography (we needed a Richard Attenborough to make Gandhi) We have not made a decent "road movie". The nearest we have gone to make an animation movie was the irritating parrot in "Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon" (other than Esha Deol making weird faces at the camera, of course!). Our war movies are always jingoistic, highly cliched boring sagas (Somebody try a "Thin Red Line" or an "Apocalypse Now" please!)

Apart from the shameless Hollywood rip-offs and NRI romances, we have not actually fared that bad. We were the pioneers in a great many things (for which we rarely get credit) and some of them are so original that nobody has dared to copy. Here is an attempt to honor them.

  • Lost n found
King of all plot devices. Parents never learn to hold their children's arms firmly, children are not afraid to be lost - and in a country as crowded and populous as India, the lost ones are found at a later time. (And the password family song. I was too scared of getting lost as a kid as my parents had never taught me any password family song. What if I was lost, keep singing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and my parents would think I was just another child who was tortured with rhymes at a young age!) Just wondering why it was so tough to find a lost woman on an island in "L'avventura"!

  • Multiple roles
I tried real hard to recollect non-Indian movies where an actor has performed multiple roles (all I could think of was Nicolas Cage's "Adaptation" - in that too they are twins. Even if there are others, its we who make too many multiple-role movies I guess) Nobody has crossed the heights our creative genius - where grandfather, dad and son all look alike - with varying mustache sizes and silver content in hairs. (I wonder why sons don't resemble their mothers in the movies :P)

  • Accidental deaths
"Mere mummy pappa plane/car accident mein guzar chuke", and that too at a time where most of the people walked all the time (I have never heard any movie character's parents dying when they were walking on footpath or traveling by scooter!) People who travel by car/plane are not as lucky as people who get lost in melas. Law of averages catches up.

  • Stop Bullet
The speed of a bullet is inversely proportional to the desire of the person to protect his friend and sacrifice his own life instead. An average bullet-ridden Indian survives 6.34 times longer and talks 20.41 times more than a bullet-ridden person of any other country.

  • Last moment marriage stop
Imagine this - Hugh Grant is holding Andie MacDowell's hand in his left hand and the camera is focused on the diamond ring he is holding in his right hand. Bang! The door opens and Whoopi Goldberg walks in with two hapless kids and screams her lungs out - "How could you do this to me? Didn't you remember these children's faces?" (Wyyyaaaaaan)
Or how about this? Hugh Grant is holding Andie MacDowell's hand in his left hand and the camera is focused on the diamond ring he is holding in his right hand. Bang! A dozen cops rush in and yell at the top of their voices - "LAPD. Mister, we have proof that you are a criminal. Don't you move. Put the ring down. On your knees" The priest tells "You may kiss the bride now". Cop - "Father, anything you say can and will be hold against you in the court of law". No, never! And that's when I miss Indian movies so much.

  • Talking to God
No one other than us would barge into a lonely temple and start conversing with God. It could be a pitiful "Why me?", an angry "WTF is going on?" or a silent "Please-save-my-hubby-from-his-manager" talk. I wonder why God does not appear and say "You talking to me?"

  • Doctor breaking news
This is a personal favorite.
Doctor - "Santosh, neevu appa aagthideera. Congrats!"
Santosh (completely bewildered) - "Nija na doctor?" (still surprised)
Happiness is one thing, but "you sure?" or "did I?" astonishment is something I am not able to understand, but this scene is pure cinematic magic!

  • Thunder n Lightening
This is the most subtle, symbolic and brilliant of all plot devices. Its a cloudy day. The macho hero is not overtly aggressive. The docile heroine rarely lifts her head. There's lightening followed by a thunder and she runs into his arms. Very poetic. The closest second should be - see the cockroach, get scared and jump on the hero (I have an interesting theory for this - the heroine being docile and all that cannot make the first move. And what better pretext to hug the hero than thunder or cockroaches :D)

I guess this is becoming a very long post, I will stop here. Can you think of any other great "contribution" of us to World Cinema?

Smile

I smiled.
Nothing even remotely close to funny had happened that day.
For a change, it was not even one of those quotations from Groucho Marx or Oscar Wilde or Woody Allen that made me smile.
No, it was not even the cool evening breeze.
I wondered if it was that cynical smile I wear quite often. No, it was not - there was something so pure about this smile.

The sheer meaninglessness of everything seemed so trivial. And nothing mattered.
There was no joy, no pain, no sarcasm, no irony. I felt nothing. It was just pure bliss. I realized what Nirvana really means.
I wished somebody took my snap at that moment. [I feel so very uncomfortable smiling for the camera, that I appear awful in all those smiling pics of mine. This could have been my ideal profile pic. Well, anyways!]
Could anybody be in that state for eternity? I wish I could, I would have given anything in the world then, to be in that state forever. But, I knew it would fade away soon and I had to relish it as long as it lasts.

I look a long look at the mad world around me and smiled for the last time!

Vasuki Thy Name

If you ask me why I respect my parents, this one would definitely figure in top five. The name they have given me. :)
Now, there are lots of trivia behind my name.

The tradition in our family is that the eldest son should have the name of Subrahmanya or of the Snake God. Fortunately, my parents did not settle for a Nagesha or a Nagaraja (No disrespect to anyone with those names, its just that they dont define me!) I would have preferred even obscure names like "Sakala Kalaa Vallabha" or "Bhaktha Jana Samrakshaka" to those Naga-prefixed names! ;) While discussing the alternatives, they bumped into the name 'Karthik', but it was dropped (probably feared being called 'Kar-thika' by people - as it does not sound too good in Kannada!)

I dont know who suggested this, but they opted for the name 'Vasuki'. If Vasuki was not unusual enough, my parents decided to name me 'Vasuki Raghavan'. There is an interesting story behind this too. My mother was approached by some woman who had prophesied (Oracle?) that a son would be born to her (she only forgot to mention that - a son who is crazy enough to watch more than 400 movies a year!) and that the child should be named after Raghavendraswamy. So not sure how to fit in Mr. Raghavendraswamy with the serpent God and also fully aware that their son would grow into a lazy person incapable of writing a very long name, my parents decided to truncate Raghavendraswamy to Raghavan (in the process, cheating the linguistically poor Raghavendraswamy - as Raghavan is the name of Rama!) Was it just this or did my parents anticipate the arrival of the Web and knew that people with very common names have to depend heavily on underscores, numbers and hyphens, to get a valid id - I dont know, I need to check with them.

I run into quite a few problems with my unusual name. "Are you a tamilian?", is the most common question I am faced with. No! "Are you Iyengar?" No sir! Then, I get that "why-in-the-hell-you-have-such-a name-then" stare. For a long time, I did not know that the great Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar's wife was named Vasuki (I dont know whats the meaning of the female version or if there is one) and I have had the privilege to disappoint a few new joinees in my company who expected to see a pretty tamil girl (when they'd heard my name, before seeing)

I know many people who have unusual names and quite a few of them have no idea of what their names mean. Not knowing is one thing, but the complete lack of curiosity and inquisitiveness about their own names is something that beats me. Here are a few interpretations I give to my name.

  • Vasuki means the king of snakes ("Sarpanamasmi Vasuki-hi" as told in Shloka 28 of Adhyaya 10 in Bhagavad-geetha)
  • In Indian mythology, Vasuki was the snake used to churn Ksheerasagara (ocean of milk) So, Vasuki is a symbolic representation of the thinking power (Mount Mandara represents the mind and Ksheerasagara represents the data) that makes humans superior to dogs and cats. :)
  • Vasuki, means V(We) comes first and I comes last. So, its symbolic of team mindset, which helps humans improve as a group. :D
  • Vasu means Krishna or Vishnu or 'the supreme lord', and "ki" in Japanese means energy (as in Rei-ki, which means soul-energy) So, Vasuki means the energy of the supreme lord (Okay, stop screaming now!)

I can go on and on, but even self-obsession should have some limits. I will stop!

Patriotism

Janani Janmabhoomischa Swargaadapi Gareeyasi

I read this adage in some blog yesterday, I remembered hearing this during my school days. What I did not know was that Rama told this to his brother Lakshmana, when they saw Lanka full of gold. This quote had definitely seemed very "inspirational" when I was a kid, but now that I question a lot of things, this sentence no longer holds the same impact for me.

The good thing about "Janani" is that its not abstract :) But what was Rama referring to when he said "Janmabhoomi"? Was he referring to the city of Ayodhya? Or the entire Kosala kingdom? Does his "Janmabhoomi" change with conquering and relinquishing certain portions of the land? Tough to answer!

I somehow cannot admit that the very earlier freedom fighters were actually the "freedom fighters of India". No, I am not questioning their commitment - but its just that most of them fought for "their kingdom". I am not sure how many of them would have cared for anything happening outside their kingdom. Had the states not been formed after Indian Independence and we still belonged to the Mysore Presidency, our loyalty would remain to the Mysore Presidency. We should just be proud of Rahul Dravid and anyone here cheering for Sourav Ganguly would be called unpatriotic! Seems strange, right? The quote from George Jean Nathan seems so meaningful - "Patriotism is often an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles."!

Actually I love my country. But, I dont walk around making statements like we are the greatest country in the world (Bernard Shaw has said beautifully "Patriotism is the conviction that your country is superior to all others because you were born in it.") And there are things that I like about my country and there are some I despise. Assuming there are rebirths, you will not find me making a statement like I want to be born here in all my rebirths. I dont mind, in fact I would want to be born in different countries. I think its the best way to see the world for those who cannot afford air tickets! Does talking like this make me any less patriotic than my chest-thumping fellow countrymen? I dont know!

If this post seems rude, I am sorry folks - that was absolutely unintentional. I think very objectively. I love questioning things. I try to look everything from different perspectives. But, I love my country, in my own peculiar way.

Happy Independence Day!

P.S: I also love this outrageously funny statement from Orson Welles - "Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch." :D

Cut Cut Cut

Its a small barber shop in one of the oldest localities in Mysore. And my regular haircut saloon for the last two decades. As I went there for a hair cut, the main barber salutes with his usual exclamation "Saar". He has 3 other co-barbers who are employed there from a long time (no attrition here sir!). "Your father and brother are not seen nowadays?", he asks me concerned about the reducing business from my family. "Oh is it?" I mumble, not sure what to say. "What?" the co-barber asks him. "Vallu thammudu...", he translates my incoherent answer into a weird combination of telugu mixed with kannada. I just say "Medium, comb-able (not too short)" Too easy, he has done that for years!

I just wondered how this place looked in the 80s. Quite unsurprisingly, its exactly the same. Two huge mirrors placed on either walls, parallel to each other. It was almost like magic for me when I had first visited that shop as a kid. Reflection in one mirror, acted as the image for the other mirror, and recursively, there are multiple images. I used to wonder how many images can exist like this. It was during my PU, I learnt the formula to realize that with 180 degree separation, the number of images is infinite!

There is an old portrait of Mysore Maharaja, which shows the obvious respect he has for the king (lot of old timers still consider him as their master!) There are 2 or 3 photos of his deceased elders (no, these are the places which dont think that such photos ruin the ambience) The usual board on the wall that says "Olaga players available for marriages, upanayanas and other auspicious functions" (Traditionally, the barbers are experts at playing Olaga - a type of wind instruments used during traditional marriages in Karnataka)

An old radio playing a very very AM channel. The ad aired is for some computer institute - which is a conversation between two people.
"Sunil, what are you doing after college?"
"Nothing"
"Oh, then why dont you join blah-blah-blah institute for hardware and networking course?"
"Whats the use of that?"

"You not only get good training, but there is an assured job placement"

"Oh is it, thank you very much. I will join today itself"


The advertisement is so 70s, that it makes "Washing Powder Nirma" and "Vicks Action 500" look ultra-modern. A few local guys keep visiting the place, updating the barber on the happenings in their lives, lost friendships, loan dealings and local politics. He listens to their stories without any boredom, hums along line by line to the radio song, while performing his craft with scissors. No matter how ordinary a person is, parallel processing comes very naturally to Indians.

He is done with the hair cut and I ask him, "How much?" - partly because I was not sure how much I had paid last time and expecting a probable price change. "You give saar", he tells - he is still from those old days where quoting the price explicitly was considered greedy and rude. I remember and give him the same amount I had given last time. Yes, the price has not changed. So he is. You may say that India is changing and changing fast. But, some places just remain as they are, probably to show us what India was a long time ago.

There are two theories about how to win an argument with a woman. Neither one works.
Now, what was your first reaction when you read that quote? You found it funny and a smile crossed your lips? Or did you frown, started screaming that its a stereotypical statement that is offensive to women? If you belong to the first group, cool! If you belong to the second group, cool down, here is a statement that might please you.
What is the difference between men and pigs? Pigs dont turn into men when they are drunk!

No no, this post was not to trigger a venus-mars supremacy fight. I was just thinking how difficult it is to be humorous without offending anyone. And the second quote might upset not just the oversensitive men, but also the oversensitive drinkers!

Just to give a few more examples. A conversation that happened at the lunch table.
"Did you meet the new manager, he is sick"
"He is sikh (sounding as sick)? I thought he was hindu" (we all laugh)
Do you seriously think that I was trying to be demeaning to other religions? Or can you accept the fact that I was too tempted to let go of an opportunity to make a pun?

If God exists, I hope he has a good excuse. - Woody Allen
If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think that he's evil. But the worst that you can say about him is that basically he's an underachiever. - Woody Allen
I adore these quotes. You call it blasphemy? Is it too sensitive that you are already praying to your God/Gods to punish/forgive me?

I simply love Peter Sellers with his exaggerated French accent in Pink Panther. Would that make me a racist?
Now, what will happen to all those "What did the ant say before making love to an elephant?" type PJs? Oh no, Maneka Gandhi may be offended!
Little Johnny jokes are a strict no-no as it shows children in bad light. Where does this end?

The point I am trying to make is that, if we become too oversensitive about religion, region, caste, gender, accents, age group etc. etc. it becomes virtually impossible to make a spontaneous joke without hurting someone (I dont think its reasonable to perform a feasibility study and impact analysis for every joke!). If a sardarji is constantly bombarded with Santa-Banta jokes, he has a valid reason to get offended. If someone is telling a specific category of jokes, with the sole intention of offending you, its okay if you react strongly to that. I dont claim to be super cool, not offended by anything, but I make a conscious effort not to read too much into it, unless its too repetitive and explicit. Otherwise, I think we need to just enjoy a joke without finding too many hidden meanings.

Hee Haa Hhaah!

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