Silverscreen Surfaces Again

Once upon a time, there was this blog I used to write for. It was called Silverscreen, for those that remember. Now it’s morphed into a full fledged cinema site, and (probably because I don’t write for it anymore) it isn’t all that bad. Do check out the newly revamped Silverscreen, where you can pretend to read stuff like this while gawking at photos.

Santosh Sivan’s calendar doesn’t have dates. Or months. Or years. It has movies. During our 45-minute conversation, there is no mention of a date. The past is simply, “during Asoka”, the recent past being “when shooting for Thuppakki” and the future is an empty plaque (“haven’t finalized the name yet.”) with a “scenic village backdrop and new faces.”[Link]

Online Thuggery? Common.

David Segal’s profile of an unscrupulous online operator in the New York Times is the most fun story I’ve read in a long time. Deeper implications aside, how can a story with lines like this one not be fun?

“Do you think I would think twice about urinating all over your frame and then returning it? Common.” [NYT]

The villain of the piece is Vitaly Borker (“thuggish Russia born Brooklynite“) who runs his online operation in a manner familar to anyone that has shopped for groceries in India. It is a hilarious read that leaves you feeling slightly queasy at the end.

“The customer is always right — not here, you understand?” he says, raising his voice. “I hate that phrase — the customer is always right. Why is the merchant always wrong? Can the customer ever be wrong? Is that not possible?”

The next day, a man named Tony Russo called to say that DecorMyEyes had run out of the Ciba Visions. Pick another brand, he advised a little brusquely.

“I told him that I didn’t want another brand,” recalls Ms. Rodriguez, who lives in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. “And I asked for a refund. He got rude, really obnoxious. ‘What’s the big deal? Choose another brand!’ “

With the contacts issue unresolved, her eyeglasses arrived two days later. But the frames appeared to be counterfeits and Ms. Rodriguez, a lifelong fan of Lafont, remembers that even the case seemed fake.

Soon after, she discovered that DecorMyEyes had charged her $487 — or an extra $125. When she and Mr. Russo spoke again, she asked about the overcharge and said she would return the frames.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with these glasses?” she recalls Mr. Russo shouting. “I ordered them from France specifically for you!”

“I’m going to contact my credit card company,” she told him, “and dispute the charge.”

Until that moment, Mr. Russo was merely ornery. Now he erupted.

“Listen, bitch,” he fumed, according to Ms. Rodriguez. “I know your address. I’m one bridge over” — a reference, it turned out, to the company’s office in Brooklyn. Then, she said, he threatened to find her and commit an act of sexual violence too graphic to describe in a newspaper. [NYT]

The King And I

He’s there every week at the same spot in the airport; dark glasses; some quarters and the odd dollar on a blanket in front, strumming a guitar and singing and sipping a coffee. Starbucks. Starbucks? Except today, he was white and singing louder than usual. Happens.

I ignored him with studied indifference and walked on toward the trains to the city, head buzzing from the bad coffee and last night’s bagel and the non-dairy creamer and the sitting in a metal tube convincing myself that the seatmate had allergies, not swine flu. That the odds of dropping down were low, Air France notwithstanding. Moving walkway is ending, and white guy was singing.

Except he was singing that song. My song.

Maaran Aranmanai,

Maadam Irandilum.

Deepam Erivadhenna.

Nothing a nap can’t fix, but right now I am inclined to conclude that my past is singing to me. Eww.

For family with two earners – government jobs, for fuck’s sake – ours lived like it had no money. The house was rented and the kitchen leaked whenever it rained. This was the same kitchen that had those ugly smoke-stains that formed when Gracy and her parents lived here and cooked fish. I could still smell the fish on some days, just as I could see Gracy and her long legs. Sigh. Pity she had married that loser and left town. The red-oxide floors had large missing chunks that Ayyamma had patched with a homemade cement concoction, and when I was bored I would test my strength against that of the cement. I always won. Later my parents would tell me they spent all that money educating me, and you can see where that led to. A notable feature of our penurious existence below the poverty line was a lack of access to any electronic gadget that could even remotely be called cool.

A few houses from us lived Mr. Mohanlal (clearly, my quiver of fake Mallu names runs very deep), father of Gopi, bowler of lethal tennis ball bouncers and Suresh, whiny bastard who could never be leg before. Their house had mosaic floors and they rented a part of it to the Cherians. Shared bathroom with priority for the landlord; cooking fish allowed. Suresh always wanted to pee when Jommy wanted to pee, letting everyone know just who the lord of the flies was. Ugh.

He never wore a shirt, this guy Cherian and he was a Malayalee like his landlord. Money-minded people, these Malayalees. Jommy was his kid, and his wife, man.  Some people have all the luck in the world, don’t they?  All I wanted to do when I grow up was be shirtless and do hot girls like her. Why was my chest hair not growing like Ganesh’s was? And what exactly is doing? Points to Ponder, like our copy of the Reader’s Digest said. Yeah, we subscribed to it, just like all the other poor people in India do.

The lucky dog Cherian had a brother in Dubai – that expanse of territory that included every country in the Middle East – a brother who brought him the fanciest electronic gadgets every two years so he could sell them to the neighbors. Kumar amma said it was a distant cousin, but who the fuck cared if it wasn’t a blood brother, right? Except me, of course, because I badly wanted that bootlegged tape recorder on sale that February.

I was tired, man. Tired of listening to snippets of music on All India Radio, Coimbatore Vanoli Nelayam. Ads for Sri Rajeshwari Hall and Shobha, Shobha Corner, Coimbatore and Woodwards Gripe water and Mangaldeep, bated breath, then the song.

Kalangalil Aval Vasantham

Fucking MSV. Even worse, AM Raja, singing like a girl. Girl like the spring, also like a painting, also like winter. Who made this shit up? And make up your mind, dude. Spring is not December. Coming to think of it, there is no Spring in the great state of Tamil Nadu because Mr. Jayaraman said through his spittle that we were too close to the equator for any meaningful change in seasons.

Oh, she made a poet out of me!

Go away already! I wanted Ilamai Idho Idho and I get fed this? Worse still, Ilamai Idho Idho starts up and my dad starts up the Lamby and it is time to go to school. Radio was just not going to cut it for me.

Rajesh and Murthy, Government school students, had a car stereo in their house, hooked up to Clarion speakers. It would bawl the Kanda Shasti Kavasam in the morning and I was, like, so devoted that I told the Lord God that I would play it every morning along  with Palli kattu Sabarimalaikku and other such drivel if he got me a tape recorder.

One such night, as I was turning my Geography textbook (“Mirror of the World”) upside down to see if how it would feel to magically turn  the 14 pages I had read so far into only 14 more pages left to read, I heard the song for the first time.

Idhaya Mazhayil, Nanaindha Kiligal

Udhayam Varayil Kulithu Kulithu

Ezha Veeendum…

Such haunting music. And deep lyrics, about parrots that got wet in the heart’s rain and wishing them many such happy showers till dawn. Some unknown guy with the most divine voice in the world singing the best song that could ever be composed. By the time it ended, I had tears in my eyes.

I got up, angrily looked at the Mirror of the World, walked to my dad and demanded that he buy the red Sharp tape recorder with APSS and two tape decks right away from Cherian, or else… Cowed by the implicit menace in my baritone, my dad agreed right away. (Okay, the truth was that he had already put a down payment on it, but the truth never gets bloggers anywhere, does it?). Naturally, Cherian retained the two empty “Dubai” cassettes that came with the gadget when we took possession of it a month later.  After that, we went out to Big Bazaar Street and bought some cassettes: Kanda Sashti Kavasam, Suprabhatham, some hideous song that always made me want to run for cover that began Bavayami Raghuram.

My promises to the Lord notwithstanding, I was bored after three days of listening to old siblings from various parts of India (Bombay Sisters, Trichy Sisters) loudly working out a quid pro quo arrangement with various deities. Clearly, they believed that volume trumped quality.

“Dad, we need some good audiotapes.”

“See, that’s why I said no tape recorder.”

Why that was a relevant answer, I don’t know to this day.

“Please, let’s buy at least a few.”

“Cinema songs spoil kids.”

Even more irrelevant response. Not like I asked him for a list of things that spoil kids. I should try this trick at school one day. “Q: Where is the equator? A: Planes fly on aviation fuel.” Focus, man, focus.

“Why not just a few?”

“Too expensive.”

Aha, some relevance.

“Let’s stop Reader’s Digest and use that money for this. I don’t understand the jokes anyway.”

Uh oh. He wasn’t amused at all. He invited my mom into the conversation.

“He wants us to give up the educational value of Reader’s Digest for cinema songs.”

“Did you see my handbag?”

Runs through the family, as you can see.

“Why can’t he be like his brother? He never asked me for such things”

“Why don’t you borrow something from Drawing Master’s house for now?”

It is a miracle I grew up sane.

The borrowing suggestion would have made sense except that the lender was totally messed up. This family next door to us, an art teacher, his wife and daughters – they were the nicest people you could find. The wife was a source of great food and he was a great source to turn to for help with anatomically correct renderings of the human heart for my biology classes. But audiotapes?

His collection consisted almost entirely of Sivaji Kadhai Vasanam tapes, audiotapes that consisted of all the dialogs from popular Tamil films starring “Sivaji” Ganesan, who could win any shouting match with any pair of siblings from anywhere. So this guy would turn the tape recorder on and actually spend his evenings listening to Sivaji secretly wooing Padmini at volumes rapidly approaching airplane engine levels.  The only time these things are useful is when you feel like watching Mirudanga Chakravarthy: they can reduce the trauma of watching them famous Sivaji jowls shake the spit out of themselves as he thwacks the poor mirudangam with murderous rage.

So yeah, this is the stuff I was to borrow.  I wish I at least had some blank tapes, but I had burnt my bridges totally with that Reader’s Digest suggestion, so I was doomed.

Or was I?

I was beginning to entertain a dangerous proposition in my mind…

Later that week, I walked to the neighbor’s house and asked to borrow some tapes. I picked out a few especially abominable ones and was told to “keep them safe for a reasonable period of time.” Out of this, I picked out the most abominable one for rescue. My plan was simple: I would tape over random portions of this audiotape with songs I liked from the radio every night. I would then proceed to listen to the songs until I was content, and then return the whole batch to them. 50% of 1 tape out of 10: my odds were great.

After some strategically applied adhesive tape to circumvent write protection, the audio cassette was ready for its redemption. Buh Bye Thooku Thooki.(What the fuck does that mean anyway?) Hello Ilayaraja.

The next few weeks were sheer bliss. The best songs from the whole wide world, right here on my fingertips. Thalaiyai kuniyum Thamaraiye and Putham Puthu Kaalai and Vaanile Thenila Aaduthe at my beck and call, waiting to entertain me. Could anyone be luckier?

Then it was the turn of choice portions of the hideous  Thanga Malai Ragasiyam (Secrets of the Gold Mountains, which are not at all what you think they are) to give way to the vastly superior Madai Thirandhu and Nila Kayuthu Neram Nalla Neram. And finally, I caught Idhaya Mazhayil again, making my life almost totally complete. The experiment ended at two rounds when my dad relented and allowed me to buy 3 cassettes a month.

A year or so later, we are invited to spend the evening lounging around with the drawing master’s family and their relatives who are visiting from a hamlet called Nanjundapuram. He plays out a few minutes from several of his tapes as a preview for the relatives, who finally choose to listen to the secrets of the Gold Mountains, perhaps because they were fooled by the title like I was the first time. A few minutes into the movie, during an obviously important moment judging by the number and extent of mouths held open, my song started again:

Idhaya Mazhayil, Nanaindha Kiligal

Udhayam Varayil Kulithu Kulithu

Ezha Veeendum…

Everyone seemed quite disappointed and a little puzzled. “How could this be?” the drawing master wondered aloud. “I must have accidentally taped over it,” he concluded, before adding that “it was such a great flim.”

He started looking for another tape when the song ended. Then it started again, except in my voice. In retrospect, I suppose practicing my singing on tape was not such a smart move, but man, did I rock that song or what.

PS:  If this post reads a little dated, it is because it is. I started it off almost a year ago, and never did gather the energy to finish it till today, perhaps fittingly on an airplane to Chicago. Also, my apologies for the rather long hiatus from the blog. I suppose I could blame being busy for not writing, but the truth is I don’t know why I didn’t write. I am pleased to say that the time off was rather productive – my wife and I had ourselves a baby girl in 2008, and she’s brought us more joy than most Illayaraja songs.

Number Two

If you thought my posts were crappy, wait till you read this one:

My first day at the bathroom here. Deed done, I zipped up pants. And then, a sudden gush of water, and my pants got drenched. Sopping, dripping, heart wrenching wet. Yes, I did get the order of events right, Ms. Know-It-All.

Puzzled, I did what every guy does. My carefully tucked shirt came out, and I walked gingerly back. I realize I am smoking hot, but can’t these girls stop looking at my pants for some time?

A few more attempts and some more pant wetting before I realized: Stop tucking your shirt in, because the stupid thing will flush whenever the tank is full, doesn’t matter if a guy wearing his only pair of Calvin Klein chinos is in there finishing up.

We’d sit around the table eating lunch, or dinner, or smoking cigars or playing poker or doing whatever else a group of people in an alien country can do sitting around a table. We’d start off well enough – how the food sucks, why the affirmative action policy in Malaysia was all twisted, why work blowed and so on … A few minutes was all it took though, for conversation to veer back to our favorite topic: Toilets. Continue reading “Number Two”

Dinner Of The Absurd

And so, I am back. With plans – big ones – a Bangkok travelogue, several book reviews, the usual (at least a ) post a day promise, more Ileana pictures on the other blog, a short story, three novels and many, many such things I know you could care less about.

And so I am back, and what’s the first thing I read? Plans for a Sepia Mutiny meetup in Los Angeles. A rare desi blog meet in this very country, and where is it held? As far away from Florida as humanly possible. Not a coincidence, I assure you: I know planned it that way.

In case you think I am overreacting, then how do you explain this: People wait for me to leave Chennai, and the very next week, they hold some sort of BlogCamp there. Clearly, it is part of a distrubing trend: Bloggers just don’t want to meet me. I know my intellect can be a little offputting to all you dumbasses, but still… You know what? Screw all you bloggers. (Poor Manoj excepted, of course. The jerk meets me everyday so that he can have something to laugh about with his new wife.) If you are a non blogger, the hot pictures are over on the other blog.

I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again now: My own blog meet, right down the street from my own home. At my favorite coffee shop, run by dear old Mandy and her husband, who were nice enough to give us exclusive access to the place for the whole evening…

Here are snippets from the meet…


Bloggera: Smells coffee. Then tastes it. “Wow, this is great coffee. Ummm… just awesome. What would the world be without coffee?”

Falstaff: “A World Without Coffee. 1. It would be illuminating to consider what the word world means in this context. The world…

Bloggera: “Excuse me, but that was a purely rhetorical question. I don’t really want to know what the world would be without coffee.”

Falstaff: “Oh, I see. But can I finish off this speech though? I only have 37 more bullet items to go through. And then, about 18 footnotes.”

Bloggera: “Please, no. Let me drink my coffee.”

Megha: “This coffee is cho chweet. Gleat.”

Bloggercthruz: “What a thoughtful sentence.”

Continue reading “Dinner Of The Absurd”

It’s a constellation out there…

Harpreet Kaur lives for Hindi cinema. She loves Amitabh Bachchan (in a platonic sort of way) and can’t imagine life without her daily dose of Lata. Harpreet is about a year into her Master’s in Computer Science at the University of Alaska. Her dad, back in Ludhiana and prone to hyperbole, never tires of telling people about how the Americans were bedazzled by his daughter’s intelligence and gave her “full aid” at the “best university in the world.” Harpreet did get financial aid, but she can’t get Computer Science for the life of her.

Srinivasa is the tall guy that sits with her in the Data Structures class. He hails from Nellore and has only a vague idea of how big Amitabh Bachchan is up north, but he gets Data Structures really well. He used to look down upon Harpreet because she sucked at Computer Science, but every time he did , he ended up staring at the prettiest pair of boobs in the world. And so, he fell in love with her.

Harpreet, on the other hand, liked the guy – especially on days he did her homework for her – but she wasn’t in love with him or anything. It didn’t help that he kept mixing up Lata and M.S.Subbulakhmi all the time. “I always have trouble differentiating between old women singing in alien tongues,” he told her when confronted. She wasn’t impressed at all by that answer…

Harpreet didn’t know it then, but change was in the air.

A few days later, Harpreet came down with a nasty flu that brought the meanest headache along. She took a Tylenol, and asked her roommate Aparna Shah if she could bring her a bowl of Campbell soup, but Aparna refused because the Campbell soup in the refrigerator was purchased from her share of the grocery fund.

Unable to counter her roomate’s sound logic, Harpreet went hungry that afternoon, and was delirious by the time Srinivasa came to visit her. He had stopped by to find out if she had really bunked classes to “be with her boyfriend,” like his friend Ravikiran had speculated.

Moved by her plight (and by the sight a pretty girl coiled vulnerably on a used Sealy Mattress), he made her some soup, and then sat by her bed and said comforting things to her until she fell asleep. He then watched the Tonight Show and spent the night on the couch in her apartment. He could’ve walked to his place, but it was his turn to cook today.

The next day, he woke up, used Aparna’s Listerine, made some coffee and drank it together with Harpreet. He experienced bliss, or something like it.

This pattern continued for a few days, and Harpreet no longer had the flu, though she was still not attending classes because she felt weak. Sri wasn’t going to classes either, “to provide her some company.” He was now a regular in Harpreet’s apartment, regular enough that his toothbrush was in her bathroom, and regular enough for Aparna Shah to demand that he pay 14% of the rent that month. Things were going very well indeed…

“What do you like? ” he asked her that afternoon, acting on advice from Ravikiran “to find out her likes and dislikes.”

“My favorite thing in the world is Amitabh Bachchan”

“My favorite thing would be my iPod. But I do like Amitabh Bachchan. He is a great actor.”

“Really? Thats so sweet. What’s your favorite movie of his? ”

“Err…I thought Shahenshah was great. So was Giraftar ”

“Shahenshah? Even I couldn’t stand that one. Tell me the truth now – how many Bachchan movies have you watched?”

“Only those two on the video coach bus from Madras to Bangalore. Nellore theaters only play Telugu and Tamil movies. But there was a lot of potential in his angry eyes.. I could see it very clearly.”

“Oh you poor thing. That’s such a sad story… I need to show you how much you are missing.”

So she said, and put in a copy of Black into their Apex DVD player. A few minutes into the movie, and Sri hits the pause button.

“So you say Amitabh Bachchan is a big star in Bollywood, right? ”

“Of course, he is a superstar. ”

“If that is so, how come the title card doesn’t say SuperStar Amitabh Bachchan. If I call him a Megastar, would that be ok?”

“Yes, he is a megastar, a superstar, a huge star. The biggest there is.”

“He can only be one star. Tell me which one. ”

“I don’t think I understand where this is going. ”

Sri takes her hand, and holds it against his chest.

“Baby, before you explain Amitabh Bachchan to me, let me explain the Southern movie industry to you. ”

“I am all ears. ”

And thus the lesson begins.

Continue reading “It’s a constellation out there…”

Slim Pickings

Sonia Faleiro’s The Girl, a book I’d briefly mentioned in this post at Sepia Mutiny, is a melancholy novel set in Goa about two men and The Girl they both loved. The book begins with the young woman’s suicide – yet another tragedy in cursed Azul – and the two men are “achingly curious” to find out why. And when one of them stumbles upon her journal, they use it to reconstruct her life leading up to the suicide – the death of an unhappy woman whose last big hope had vanished.

Just a few pages into the novel, and it is obvious that it is as much about showcasing the writing as it is about the actual plot. The Girl is a carefully crafted book: every sentence is meticulously assembled from deliberately chosen words, each page is filled with precise paragraphs construced from meticulously assembled sentences.

There is plenty of wordplay, and large doses of descriptive detail. Nothing is too insignificant to be let off without a metaphor or two, ranging from the inventive to the cliched.

Thus we have the earth “encrusting the casket like pastry bubbling into hardness,” a bar and its location as mismatched as “vegetarianism and a Goan” and as “profoundly antipodean” as the “Rua’s many little old ladies and the one young lady who lived opposite Breto’s in a stone mansion, and many years later flung herself into the well in the corner of her garden.”

Continue reading “Slim Pickings”

Introducing SilverScreen

Someone talking to me for the first time is usually struck by two things: How incredibly handsome I am, and how incredibly smart I am. If they can get over this, they’ll be struck by two more things: How much I love movies, and how much I love books.

Someone meeting Manoj for the first time is usually struck by two things: How much he loves movies, and how much he loves music. Ok, maybe they’ll also be struck by how smart he is. Whatever. That’s not the point.

So anyways, Manoj and I spend the better part of our days IMing each other. In normal English, capitalized first words and all. (The only allowance for IMspeak is the ubiquitous brb, which I thought was a misspelt female undergarment when someone first used it on me. Now I know, and love to use it coz it sounds so, um, kinky.)

Continue reading “Introducing SilverScreen”

Friends, Rolexes and Shirtless Men

Picture Courtesy Wikipedia

Golden dragons sit atop the striking green fa?ade, flanked by golden arches on the left and (overpriced) gold topped taxis beneath. A unsightly blue roof stretches along the entire street, designed to keep out the elements and whatever little charm the facade has to offer. “Jalan Petaling,” the multilingual signboard suspended from the lowest tier says. Petaling Street.

Petaling Street, a narrow stretch of road in downtown Kuala Lumpur is the green dragon facaded, blue roofed home to a gigantic flea market selling bootleg merchandise. Fittingly, the market operates from dawn to midnight, drawing an enormous throng of bargain hunters looking for Rolexes and Patek Philippes; Guesses, Guccis, Givenchys and Louis Vittons; Star Wars and Flight Plan and Sims and Civilization and food.

A row of stores on each side of the street, and down the middle of the street a double row of stores with their backs to each other, splitting the narrow alley into two narrower alleys. Enter through the left, bargain your way up the street till the end, gawk at the vendors selling fried fish, and kabab rolls and ice kacang, and a Rolex or two; turn around and haggle back down the other way. Along the way, a sensual treat: the bright flouroscent lighting, the smell of sweaty bodies laden with faux Italian fashion goods mixed in with the the smell of barbecued fish, the sounds of hagglers haggling and touts touting.

Continue reading “Friends, Rolexes and Shirtless Men”

This will do just fine…

In which a forced break from blogging causes one to overcompensate by writing an overly long post.

I was sixteen. She must’ve been a few years older.

I was the kid that snottily buried his head in a book through the hourlong bus ride to school, except to look at the occasional poster. After her, I was the kid that was starting to fantasize about burying the head elsewhere. Dirty thoughts, I know, but not as dirty as you think. I didn’t know all that then.

In truth, she wasn’t all that pretty. Thin and wiry and bespectacled and fair and squeaky and rude and unsmiling. But she wore exceptionally short skirts that fell just below the knee. Can you imagine? And traveled the same route as me every single day for two years, standing but a few feet away from me. And most important of all, she went to Nrimala[1] College. What could be hotter?

Ever since a we’d heard that story about a bunch of girls at Rinmala who forced the milkman that went to deliver milk to their hostel to have sex with them, the hotness quotient of everyone that spent any time at all in the general vicinity of the campus had increased by several orders of magnitude in our eyes. Especially because Rex – who assured us all that he knew – informed us that the story was very true. He also threw in a few details of the incident – oh my! – that made me think that being a milkman wouldn’t be a bad way to make a living. Wake up, clean bullshit, milk cow, visit college. Bliss.

Could the girl on the bus be one of those girls, I wondered. And then hastily assured myself that she couldn’t have been. Given the time of the incident, she was probably in this very bus when her classmates were doing the nasties to the poor milkman. Unless it was a predetermined crime, and she had stayed back that night. Quite possible, you know.

Now, in case you think we believed every story we heard about IrNmala, you are so wrong. That story about the girl and a broken test tube for example: In spite of the obvious truth that in those days – most young girls possessed rather loose morals and were capable of most acts of debauchery a male brain could think of, this one was a little too farfetched to be true. Also, it coincided a little too well with our entry into the world of pipettes and burettes and – you guessed it – test tubes. So we only partly believed the story.

And then one day, the girl didn’t show up. After she kept up the habit of not showing up for a few more days, I knew I had lost her – either she had graduated or she had fled the law. It must’ve been the latter – how could someone graduate in December anyway?

She had vanished without a word, my scheming shrew girlfriend. Thank God I hadn’t introduced her to my parents or bragged about her to Rex.

We’d been seeing each other for a good year and a half, and what did I get out it? A sorry glimpse of knee.

This won’t do.

Continue reading “This will do just fine…”