Saturday, November 17, 2007


Saawariya is a nice little love story, which looks very artificial at first sight, due to the extravagant sets created, and the picturisation of the story. But underneath the superficiality of the sets and the seeming anachronism, it is indeed a beautiful story of love and loss.

It is quite simple in its story, of a boy meeting a girl, falling in love at first sight, and attempting to woo her, not realising that she has someone else in her heart. And even after the realization, it sticks to reality in the sense that he does things which would be true of any person smitten. Have we not walked our girlfriends home? Have we not held their hand and guided them over puddles when we go enjoy the rain in Lonavala? Do we not harbour dreams of dancing for our sweetheart and proclaiming our love with the entire restaurant looking on? Do we not rejoice when she blushes a deep red when you are kneeling and the all the people in the room are rooting for her to say YES? Is it not natural that in the excitement of all this, a guy falters and falls flat on his face. What then is so artificial about this film that everyone is sinking their daggers in its chest and carving a Christmas turkey out of it? I risk fingers being pointed at me for bringing in comparisons, but at least, it is more believable than running on to the streets of New York and breaking into a dance where everyone else including the Yankees know all the steps.

This film compels you to go into the protagonist’s character to experience the full force of it. Once you are in the character, it matters little that the rocks are artificial, that the river which flows here is essentially the same water which has been channelled in from the fountain at the town square, and even that when the heroine comes sailing at night, there is no one paddling the boat. Yes, I noticed these “lapses of direction” as you would call them, but they were irrelevant in the context of love. Is it not true that when you’re in love, the most insane thing looks absolutely perfect. I am glad that SLB chose to build a set so artificial that love is the only thing that seems to be real. It is everywhere, in Raj, in Sakina, in Gulab, in Lillipop. You can give me a hundred things which were wrong in the movie, but I will give you just three scenes.

Masha Allah – Until the first occurrence of these words, the song does not picturise Sakina’s face in full, and when it emerges out into the moonlight, Raj looks at its beauty, resplendent and glowing in the milky moonlight, and exclaims, “Masha Allah”. His eyes are so wide, that he wants to soak up the ethereal beauty in front of him all at once. If this was a qawwali, this is when you would say “Wah Wah”. All through, the lyrics carry you forward through the thoughts going through his mind, and as you bask in his thoughts, you gasp, “Masha Allah”. Further down, we see them sailing underneath a bridge and she signals to him that the bridge is low, so they bend towards each other. And for the brief amount of time they pass the bridge, they have their heads down to each other, Raj metaphorically surrendering himself to her beauty. Silence, breaths held to an extent you can hear the heartbeats, the unequivocal ambiguity of what to say when one sits up again upright, and then “Masha Allah”. If this isn’t finesse, what is?

The scene where Raj and Sakina are standing on a raised platform on the town square, and he takes her in his arms and swivels her around so that her feet are off the platform and hanging mid-air away from the edge where he is standing. She clings on to him for support, knowing that the ground under her feet is far below, and he balances her wrapping his arms around her, almost saying, “I assure you I will not let go of you, not now, not once in life”. If this isn’t literally sweeping a lady off her feet, what is?

The scene where Sakina folds her hands in a namaste to ask forgiveness, and just as Raj wraps his palms around her hands, she retracts them, and says “Humne tumhe maaf kar diya”, revealing that now, Raj is in a position asking forgiveness. There are a lot of things like this, which make you feel lighter, which will take you back in time to remind you of things which you may have done or thought of doing. The guy, in awe of the girl, thinks she is leading him on, and reciprocates his feelings. The girl, obviously flattered by the interest shown, tries to humour him. If this does not bring out the coy one-upmanship igniting the sparks of a mutual attraction, what does?

What's good in it?
Sets are extravagantly created, in an obvious attempt to re-create St.Petersburg in winter. Music is superlative. One could not ask for more from a debut performance. Directing music for the first time, after having given background score of Black and Devdas, Monty Sharma gives an above-par performance with music with enough pain in it to make you cry. The lyrics complement the feelings of the actors and are like little ferries which take you from one part of the story to another, and by the time you are there, you know what the actors went through. I would, however, have liked a bit more Urdu in the parts where Sakina’s feelings are depicted. Due to their use in bringing the thoughts out, one feels that the songs are a bit over-used, and having a similar base, all the songs (except one) seem similar, as if they are stemming out of the title song Saawariya.

Ranbir and Sonam would still have to prove themselves in commercial films under big banners, because this film does not give them much space to deviate from the adaptation and bring in their full repertoire into use. However, Ranbir's dancing skills and toned body have been exhibited for those film makers who would want to bank on him. Zohra Sehgal impresses in her small role, and Salman Khan and Rani Mukherjee are wasted. Any one would do in their place, and it seems that they have been added to give the star value to the film.

My reco - If by going to a film, your expectation is to while away the monotony of five days in office, then this film is not for you. This is something that has to be watched for the effort that has been put in to bring out love as the only real thing, all else artificial. As a fantasy, it is certainly more believable than Paheli, which has a ghost romancing a girl and impersonating her husband. (I delayed watching Paheli after hearing this very line “ghost romancing a girl”, but when I watched it, I liked it).

A beautifully made film, you will appreciate it as soon as you identify yourself with the character in even one scene, and that identification will happen if only you have ever loved someone to the point where all else seems futile and meaningless.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Of Cabbies and Celebration

Calling a cab comes easily to people who don’t have a car here. Bringing down groceries every week from Sainsbury’s, going home from office at unearthly hours, or just if you are not in the mood to walk to office – the simplest thing to do is to call a cab. I think, if you go counting, in all of my eleven months here, “Can I have a cab from … ” would come third after “Sorry” and “Thanks” in the list of most-used phrases. In fact, the phone numbers of the cab companies were one of the first ones to go into my phonebook. Most of the cabbies are from the sub-continent – Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis. Srilankans are conspicuous by their absence – In all these days, I have run into only one Srilankan cabbie named Kobalakrishnan. There are also a large number of African youth, and a small cross-section of local people among the cab-driving crowd.

We usually have a small chat in the seven-odd minutes it takes to drop me home. They usually start with the very British “You alright?”. I think it will slowly overcome the quintessential London cabbie opening gambit, “Where to, guv?”. Although there are 3-4 cab companies operating around here, we desi crowd usually call only one. Legend has it that the owner of this company is a man of the sub-continent who started out as a cabbie and set up shop when
Milton Keynes was in its toddler years. Considering that MK is a very young city (only 40 years old) and very different from other English cities, the cabbie grew with the city and became prosperous. The more practical and buyable reason is that in our experience of calling cabs in our Indian accented English, this company dispatches cars faster than other companies. Given the number of times we call the cabs, we get some really chatty guys who break the ice as soon as we sit down.

Some of them play with us at the local cricket club. Some of them say they have houses for rent. Some of them advertise their shop, offering discounts if we pick up beer by the crate and such like. Some of them pour out their woes on us. Apparently, software is eating away into their jobs as well.

Aapke yahan naya masheen laga hai kya? Maine phone kiya tha to automated response aaya.
Haan? Kya aaya?
Humse poocha yahan se pickup karna hai to 1 dabao, ya operator se baat karne ke liye 2 dabao. Humne 1 dabaya to poocha abhi chahiye to 1 dabao. Humne phir 1 dabaya to aapka cab bhej diya.
Achcha system hai, cab book karne mein pehle jitna time nahi lagta hai abhi.
Bhai, unhone 35000 hazaar ka woh masheen lagaya hai, aur who kam se kam chaar aadmiyon ka kaam karega.
Kam hai. Humare 10-12 operator baithe hain wahan. Har operator ko per week 250-300 dena padta hai. Agar ye chaar aadmi ka bhi kaam karta hai, to ye paisa to unko (250 x 4 operators x 4 weeks) 9 months mein aa jayega. Uske baad ka sab to munafa hai.

What is this new machine which you have installed? I called and got an automated response.
Yeah? What was the response?
It asked me to press 1 if you want to be picked up from (my address). I pressed 1 and it asked me to press 1 if I needed the cab immediately. I pressed 1 and you came along.
I see.
It is a good system, booking a cab is faster than before now.
Brother, they have installed a machine for 35000 pounds, it will do the job of atleast 4 people.
It is less. We have 10-12 operators, every operator is paid 250-300 (£). Even if the machine does the work of four people, this money is recovered in 9 months (250£ x 4 operators x 4 weeks). After that, it is profit.

And then, during the Twenty-20 World Cup, in the days before the final, cab-rides would generally be silent. That was because India was all set to face Pakistan, and a sizeable number of our drivers have Pakistani roots. It becomes very uncomfortable to remain neutral when speaking about obvious strengths and weaknesses of each team. More so, when they threw statistics – in the last three games of their dream run into the finals, India successively
batted first and defended its total, while Pakistan always bowled first and chased down the total. It was like an invisible wall.

Then on the day of the final, we encountered a motley crowd from the bank across – a big mix of first and second generation settlers and visiting workers like us. We were sitting in Wetherspoons, a popular watering hole, which offers food and drinks all day, and beams live telecast of major sporting events on four screens. Every boundary or wicket was cheered enthusiastically by respective crowds. The bartenders raised an eyebrow at the hooting and the
loud thumping of tables when Joginder was hit for a six in the last over. One ball later, they could not do anything about the dancing on the chairs, the shrill whistles screeching across the already high decibel level of the howling public and the wide-eyed locals watching the Indian crowd do a street-dance in their office wear. For one whole week, the hollow silence of the cab-rides echoed the ruckus of those thirty minutes. Again, the invisible wall, the curt replies and the general discomfort. Then everyone grew out of it for the better.

Last week, I took a cab home as it was chilly, and I was too bored to walk home in the cold, moist outdoors. My cabbie was a middle-aged guy from the subcontinent, white-haired, and spoke with an acquired but broken British accent. I was half expecting him to start a conversation on the current India-Pak series when he opened up asking “Haanji, kahan choD doon aapko?” (“Yes, where can I drop you off?”)

I told him, and he quickly changed back to English.
“Whereabouts are you from?”
“Where in India?”
“Oh. Mysore”, he repeated, then, “Where from in Mysore?”
People who ask me where I’m from usually stop when I say Mysore. They say it’s a beautiful place or they associate it as the Poona of Bangalore, but few ask where I am from within Mysore. Had this guy been there?

“I’m from Mysore proper. Do you want to know which part of Mysore I come from?”
We stop at a traffic light. He looks at me and says, “Mysore is like a state in India, right?” Lights turn green. As he drives ahead, I explain, “No, the princely state of Mysore became Karnataka long ago, and Mysore is a city now.” He keeps looking across the road into a parking lot as we drive. He glances at me and says, “I’m just looking for my wife – she works here – see if you can spot a yellow Mini”.

We search for a yellow Mini, but there is none. Another traffic light. He looks at me and says, “So, which part of Mysore are you from? Karnataka?”. “No”, I reply, “I’m from Mysore, and Mysore is a part of Karnataka.”

“Yeah, yeah. And what do you speak there?”
“Canada”, he says, and smiles.

"How long are you here for?"
"Almost an year now. I might return soon", I reply.
"Given a chance", he says, "would you like to stay here permanently?"
I smile and look around the darkness at half past five. "No, a year or two is fine, but I don't think I'd like to stay back here. I would go home."
"But, why? You know, it's all dirty there, so much pollution, so much corruption. The ministers, the clerks, they all ask money to do small things."
"Yeah, but all said and done, India is home."
"Why? You have work here, you are getting money."
"Yeah, I guess it comes down to personal choice then."

We were near my house, and I told him to pull over. He reverse-parked into my driveway, and pulled out a pamphlet. "See this", he said. It was a Barclays Bank ad offering an account in India. Then he showed me a receipt printed out from a website. It showed a transaction for a sum of around 80000 USD.

"I bought a detached house in Sarjapur Road, Bangalore. Is the price about right?" he asked. I did a classic double-take. Here was a guy, driving taxis around, settled here in the UK, and he had bought a house worth 32 lakhs in Bangalore.

"Family, that's why we all go back, innit?", he continued, "I'm a Punjabi. My brother, he lives in Bangalore in a four storeyed house - he has the first floor, his mother is in the second, and his nephew in the third floor. And someone else on the fourth. I have this house now, and I will be going in January. I will eat masala dosa. Masala dosa, you don't get that here ... "

A voice inside me said, "muh to band karo, uncle", and as I drew my jaw up, he was finishing "... make money, come here; want bhelpuri, go there."

I paid him his three pounds, and as I was getting out, he offered his hand, "What's your name, I'll see you again."
"Vikas", I said, "what's yours?"
"My name means 'Light'", he declared.
Yeah, yeah, he prodded.
"Yes", he grinned indulgently.
"Cheers, Deepak. Happy Diwali."
"Hey, is it Diwali already?"
"Yes, today is Dhan Teras. Two days later its Diwali and then Bhai Dooj."
"Oh", he said, and then, "I will show my ignorance here, but when is Rakhi?"
"Rakhi is already over, my friend."
"Not my fault, I don't have any sister, you see. See you around", he said, and drove away.

I watched him until he turned at the end of the road. Here was an Indian, driving a taxi, and come January, he would be in his own house in Bangalore, munching away on masala dosa. I took a long look at myself, and then scurried inside.

And on that note, have a Happy Diwali.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

And one more

You know I'm maha impressed with the Swedes, their innovation and the Slow Down Culture.
Here's one more. My good friend Beryle forwards me this. And she's asked me to thank her. (Thanks, Beryle). Before you ask, this is an ad in a Swedish magazine for some job openings in ABB, the automation giant.

It says, "Is your future in Beijing(Chinese script), Västerås(Swedish) or BengaLuru (KannaDa)?"

While we can all take pride in the fact that 'phoren log' did actually make the effort of putting in the name of the city in the language of the land, I cannot help but wonder - what if the idea was put forth by a kannaDiga, working away in an outsourced office in BengaLuru. :D