A lot of queries regarding the lyrics so putting them here, with translation. Also included is the additional verse which is now a part of ‘Jaag Musaafir’ track on the album here.

Song video: (with captions)


Ujadi riyaasat lutey Sultan

Adhmari bulbul, aadhi jaan,

Aadhi sadi ki aadhi nadi mein,

Aadhi sadak pe poori shaan…

(Devastated Kingdom, demoralized King,

Injured bird, with half a soul,

Half a century & half-dried river later,

Full arrogance on half-broken roads.)

Aadha aadha jod ke banta,

Poora ek fitoora…

Aur aadhe bujhe charaag ke talley,

Poora Kaanpoora…

(Sum of the parts, misfit & odd,

Make up this madness,

And under the half-lit lamp,

Lives this city of Kanpur.)


Hatiya khuli, sarafa bandh,

Jhaade raho CollectorGanj,

Baat-baat pe phantom ban-na,

Chhodo baith ke maaro tanj…

(One market’s open, another closed,

Collectorganj traffic’s always jammed,

So stop behaving like Phantom,

Just sit and make fun of the world.)

Arre Angrejan toh bisar gaye,

Aur gaiyya road pe pasar gayi,

Andu-baksai karte karte

Bachi-khuchi sab kasar gayi.

(The British left long ago,

And the cows colonized the roads,

Aimless gossiping for long hours,

Finishes any hopes of a comeback.)

Kasar gayi aur bhasar machi hai,

Chaat ke laal dhatoora…

Aadhe bujhe charaag ke talley,

Poora Kaanpoora…

(Hope is over-rated when,

‘Dhatoora’ can keep you happy,

And under the half-lit lamp,

Lives the city of Kanpur.)

Jeb pe paiband, mijaaz sikandar,

Dher madaari, ek kalandar,

Tooti si jaadu ki chhadi,

Ek ruki si ret ghadi,

(Torn pockets, dance of monkeys,

And still the air of smugness.

A broken magic wand,

A stuck sand-clock.)

Aage dekh ke peechhey chalta

Shahar yeh poora ka poora

(Looking forward, walking backwards,

This city’s ways are strange & cute.)

(Additional verse)

Ped pe machhli paani mein bandar

Bhoosey ke mahalon ka sookha samandar

Dulhe pe ghodi, haalat ajeebi

Har koi lagta Rashid ki Bibi.

Aur bibi ji ke nek haath mein

ek haath ka chhoora,

Aur aadhe bujhe chiraag ke talley

Poora Kaanpoora.





The Film Times of India Doesn’t Want You To See

World Before Her


Once Shiv Sena goons attacked the offices of Times of India. Don’t remember for what reason and am sure even SS won’t remember now. But my first reaction (instead of sympathy for ToI) was – Now ToI editors would have to pay ToI bosses the ‘front-page fees’ to get this story on the cover.

Such is ToI’s reputation, India’s ‘oldest and number one newspaper’. They have no ideology, no lofty journalistic principles, just a bed-and-breakfast version of print-space where you pay for a day’s coverage.

But something happened today. It seems, they do have an ideology beyond money. They do, sometimes, feel the need to stifle arts for their comfort.


Times of India group black-listed ‘The World Before Her’, a documentary by Nisha Pahuja, from its review pages for all its publications. No review in ToI or Mirror, on web or in print.


Because the film takes a critical look at the ‘beauty obsession’ culture promoted by Miss India Pageant, an event ToI group has a stake in. In a clip described as ‘chilling’ by (generally over-enthusiastic) scoopwhoop, Dr. Jamuna Pai is shown giving botox facelifts to 18-20 year old girls.


 (The clip, again thanks to ToI’s clout, is missing from the internet.)

Censorship and Irony

A similar censorship by a right-wing owned publication would have resulted in a much bigger uproar and outrage. But since this is Times of India, everybody’s Maai-Baap-Dalaal, only muffled voices are being heard on the net.

(Since the film shows inner workings of a Durga Vahini camp too, am sure Viraat Hindus are quietly chuckling at ToI doing what they would have done or can still do.)

But what this move by ToI does achieve beautifully is that it demonstrates Nisha Pahuja’s thesis for the film. That at its worst, there is little difference between our orthodoxy and ‘modernism’, between Durga Vahini narrow-mindedness and Corporate fascism, between a Dinanath Batra and India’s leading newspaper.  Stifling free speech, brainwashing young minds, and turning humans into ‘factory products’ is the main motto of both our right-wing ideology and consumerist economy.

Way Forward

Of course it’s a huge compliment for any film that it threatens the most powerful of the land. But we can show them how useless such a censorship can be in today’s times by talking about the film, the censorship, may be writing letters to the editors (if people still do such things), or at least tagging them on twitter in all the posts related to the film.

And of course, by going to a theatre and catching the film ToI doesn’t want you to see.








तो तुम लेखक बनना चाहते हो?


(कवि: चार्ल्स बुकोस्की

अनुवाद: वरुण ग्रोवर)


अगर फूट के ना निकले

बिना किसी वजह के

मत लिखो।

अगर बिना पूछे-बताये ना बरस पड़े,

तुम्हारे दिल और दिमाग़

और जुबां और पेट से

मत लिखो।


अगर घंटों बैठना पड़े

अपने कम्प्यूटर को ताकते  

या टाइपराइटर पर बोझ बने हुए

खोजते कमीने शब्दों को

मत लिखो।

अगर पैसे के लिए

या शोहरत के लिए लिख रहे हो

मत लिखो।


अगर लिख रहे हो

कि ये रास्ता है

किसी औरत को बिस्तर तक लाने का

तो मत लिखो।

अगर बैठ के तुम्हें

बार-बार करने पड़ते हैं सुधार

जाने दो।

अगर लिखने का सोच के ही

होने लगता है तनाव

छोड़ दो।


अगर किसी और की तरह

लिखने की फ़िराक़ में हो

तो भूल ही जाओ

अगर वक़्त लगता है

कि चिंघाड़े तुम्हारी अपनी आवाज़

तो उसे वक़्त दो

पर ना चिंघाड़े ग़र फिर भी

तो सामान बाँध लो।


अगर पहले पढ़ के सुनाना पड़ता है

अपनी बीवी या प्रेमिका या प्रेमी

या माँ-बाप या अजनबी आलोचक को

तो तुम कच्चे हो अभी।


अनगिनत लेखकों से मत बनो

उन हज़ारों की तरह

जो कहते हैं खुद को ‘लेखक’

उदास और खोखले और नक्शेबाज़

स्व-मैथुन के मारे हुए।

दुनिया भर की लाइब्रेरियां

त्रस्त हो चुकी हैं

तुम्हारी क़ौम से  

मत बढ़ाओ इसे।

दुहाई है, मत बढ़ाओ।


जब तक तुम्हारी आत्मा की ज़मीन से

लम्बी-दूरी के मारक रॉकेट जैसे

नहीं निकलते लफ़्ज़,

जब तक चुप रहना

तुम्हें पूरे चाँद की रात के भेड़िये सा

नहीं कर देता पागल या हत्यारा,

जब तक कि तुम्हारी नाभि का सूरज

तुम्हारे कमरे में आग नहीं लगा देता

मत मत मत लिखो।


क्यूंकि जब वक़्त आएगा

और तुम्हें मिला होगा वो वरदान

तुम लिखोगे और लिखते रहोगे

जब तक भस्म नहीं हो जाते

तुम या यह हवस।


कोई और तरीका नहीं है

कोई और तरीका नहीं था कभी।  

(Original poem here: http://allpoetry.com/poem/8509537-So-You-Want-To-Be-A-Writer-by-Charles-Bukowski )

“Tujhe sharam nahin aati khud ko Indian bolte huye?” (UPDATED)

Varun offenseSo this was supposed to be a standard corporate gig. Event management company ‘BOI Media and Entertainment  Pvt Ltd.’ contacted me for this a few days ago.

What happened

6 pm: I reach the venue (Hotel Leela, Andheri East) to find out that the gig is for a party thrown by German Consulate so lots of foreigners (“from 15 countries”) are around. The show is an hour away and the in-charge from client side tells me “No references to caste, religion, or slang words including ‘F words’.” I was told to cut down my set duration from 30 to 15-20 if that’s what it takes to take out the bad words. She confessed she had seen my videos on youtube (Sadma Awards i think) where I used lots of hindi gaalis. I promised I won’t use any Hindi or English gaalis, and no reference to caste or religion.

7 pm: I cut down my material to a cool 15 minutes, feeling good about less stage time for a while. The venue was not at all conducive for a stand-up show (a huge hall with seating in all corners, no stage or spotlights etc.) But then, in a corporate gig, I was prepared for these things so didn’t bother much.

8:00 pm: I go on stage. These are the major lines/jokes/thoughts I shared.

1. Nice to be in a room with people from so many countries and not fighting for oil.

2. Indians in the room give me a cheer. (Indians cheered.) And now people who don’t honk like mad at traffic signals, give me a cheer. (Some foreigners got the joke and cheered.)

3. Indians love honking and driving rash because we believe in rebirth. While you foreigners have only one birth so you drive safely.

4. I am an IITian so I come from a place where masturbating 5 times a day is normal.

5. 3-4 jokes on beef ban in Madhya Pradesh and how other animals must be feeling inferior to cows.

(At this point, the girl from BOI Media comes and taps on my shoulder to avoid “slangs”. I confused, in the middle of a set, just nod “yes”.)

6. I talk about how i grew up in a conservative household – about how watching a condom ad with your parents was a huge deal in the late 80s.

(At this point she comes again and tells me to wrap up RIGHT NOW.)

7. I wrap up and go back to the console.

Besharam Indian

8:15 pm: The girls from BOI Media look at me as if i just did a Miley Cyrus on stage. They ask me why did I flout the ‘brief’ and talk “dirty things”. I am trying to explain to them there was nothing dirty in there when 2-3 men gather around me (one older man, one in his 30s, and one in his 40s) telling me “Sharam nahin aati khud ko Indian kahte huye?” (Aren’t you ashamed to call yourself Indian?)

I am still figuring out which part of my set was anti-Indian and the man in his 50s says “Only Indians honk at traffic signal? Do you think we are uncivilized?” I nod a yes in reflex honesty but manage a ‘sorry but…’ when the man in his 40s, already few pegs down I hope, said “Tum jaison ko goli maar deni chaahiye!” (People like you should be shot dead.) I instantly check for signs of satire on his grim face but find none. Am just happy he is not a politician’s son carrying guns in his underwear.

While I am apologizing and explaining to these angry men that what I was saying was ‘personal opinion and satire’, two girls show up and one of them says “I am also an IITian and I feel so bad that you maligned the name of my Institute. How dare you say such horrible things about India and IIT in front of foreigners?” I begin to ask “Which IIT you are from…” and she just turns away half mumbling the most un-eff-word curse she would know.

Varun majority8:30 pm: The two girls from BOI Media are talking to their bosses and explaining the horror they just witnessed. I decide to step out and get some non-prudent air when another one (a 40-ish year old man) accosts me and says “EVERYBODY IS ANGRY WITH YOU. YOU JUST GAVE OUR COUNTRY A VERY BAD NAME!” I ask him calmly “How sir? I need to know. Honestly.” And he said “You spoke as if India is only bad things. We honk, we masturbate, we kill cows…” I ask him “Have you seen any standup comedy in your life ever?” He says “Doesn’t matter. You were dirty. And I am going to sue the hotel and you for allowing such a thing.”

I take the deepest sigh I have taken in a long while and step out. Predictably, I am told that the cheque (promised right after the gig) is not ready. I will have to meet the BOI Media bosses tomorrow for that to get through.

9 pm: Am in a cab home when somebody (apparently senior) from BOI Media calls me and asks me to explain what happened. I explain and she says “But you were told specifically to not use slang or jokes on caste or religion.” I tell her to go through the video and find me one joke that fits the description. She says you have to apologize (write a letter, meet them tomorrow etc.). I tell her to make the promised payment and get an apology. And then comes the shocker I had not expected even after such a bizarre evening. “We want you to write an apology letter AND forfeit your fees.” I feel like laughing and crying at such immense stupidity of human species even after millions of years of so-called evolution. She cuts the call before I could.


1. There was a reason I never did corporate shows. They are not the people who want to listen or have fun or be amused at new ideas. But I did this one time, owing to cash crunch as well as “ek baar kar ke dekhne mein kya hai!” syndrome. Heeraman of Teesri Kasam type my 1st Kasam – NEVER do a corporate gig again. Corporate world is full of assholes or prudes or prude assholes.

2. Hypocrisy of the privileged Indian is mind-numbingly sad.  The older man told me on my way out, probably seeing my sad face, ‘Talking about such things in private is ok. But in front of so many girls…it was not done.’

3. Inferiority complex of our fellow nationals is depressing. Saying Indians honk can offend people and saying IITians masturbate can drive people to wish me dead.

4. Always take advance payment for corporate gigs. I didn’t. And now I am stuck with a bad day, horrible client who didn’t even brief me properly, death wish by offended people, and an unpaid fees.  So Hiraman ki doosri kasam – Take advance for any gig. (Haha! As if am getting any more gigs now.)

5. The foreigners were all enjoying the show while Indians were struck by lightening. Foreigners masturbate i guess.

6. To the man who asked me that loaded question, yes, after meeting such people,  I do feel ashamed to be an Indian.

Closing note: 

I needed to share this for a few reasons.

1. Venting out after such a horrible experience at the hands of prudes and full of shit Indians.

2. See if it goes around, shared by enough people, and reaches BOI Media Pvt Ltd. and they compensate me for my time and performance, not to mention the mental trauma and threats.

3.  See if it can reach German Consulate and they intervene with the good sense that they were not offended, that they have a sense of humour, and tell the Indian client to take it light. Long shot, but not as long as a stand-up comic getting killed for saying Indians honk on traffic signal.



I got paid in full and baa-izzat by BOI Media today. Their team of Directors behaved really professionally today. (Social media impact zindabaad!) No mention of me apologizing to them or client was made and the cheque was handed over without any fuss. Of course they didn’t apologize for the insult and anger I had to face yesterday, but honestly, I wasn’t even expecting that. (Am not that hopeful about the world.) So yes, thanks for all the support and noise and words of encouragement – everything helped.

Of course the Taliban-ke-poot who threatened me y’day go scot free – but am sure some of them would have read the blog (63,000 views!) by now and will feel 2-paisa shame about their existence.

Holy Ship of No Amour

The week of watching some terrific some middling and some not even passable cinema, hopping from one screen to another, standing in queues, and making the ‘silence please’ Mexican waves (know that one, where one person’s phone rings mid-screening and somebody whispers ‘silence’, and somebody else whispers a bit loudly to the first whisperer ‘Silence’, and somebody else decides to ‘SILENCE YAAR’ the 2nd whisperer, and it goes on…?) is over. From the bourgeois-like life for a week (watching cinema, meeting beautiful people, and eating in South Bombay eliteria), I am back to Amol Palekar life. Just reached home after buying Kaddu-Lauki-Parval from sabzi mandi.

But this was a good year at the festival. So good that I can easily make a top-10 list out of the 20 films I watched. And I think at least the top 3-5 of these will stay with me for a very long time. Though such judgments of how-long-my-mind-will-keep-this-memory-alive are always tricky so let’s say, the top 3-5 of this list are the films that I hope stay with me for a long time.

Going with the format we first saw on ‘Philips Top 10′ 18-years ago, doing a countdown.

10. Kauwboy/Boudewijn Koole: Slice-of-life for the most duration, coming-of-age in some parts, and father-son dealing with a common tragedy in their own ways in some others. The most heartwarming film of the festival I think. Also a stress-buster in the middle of dark/depressing (After Lucia), slow paced (Taboor), or well-done but esoteric (Something in the Air) cinema generally found at the festivals.

Aside: There were many films this year dealing with father-son/daughter issues. The Hunt, After Lucia, Stories We Tell, Electrick Children, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Rust and Bone among the ones I saw. Some coincidence, this.




9.  Rust and Bone/Jacques Audiard: Jacques Audiard’s last A Prophet was a prison-drama full of gore, shock, and characters more complex than differential equations and may be that’s why the simplistic one-tone characters in Rust and Bone made the film slightly underwhelming. But still, Audiard’s class shines through in the complicated relationships, a new take on unequal love, and the final act. More feel-good than anyone was expecting from this director, but having Marion Cotillard in your film and not making her smile is also a crime very few could dare attempt.

8. The Hunt/Thomas VinterbergWhen I saw it the first time, didn’t find it great. But for reasons I now have to find, it has stayed with me like only good movies can. May be it was too frustrating, the lead character’s losing struggle for truth, that I switched off, but the cold, it-could-happen-to-anybody feeling this film evokes is difficult to shrug off. Also, as CilemaSnob pointed out, very rare for a film to explore a child’s psychology behind a sexual abuse accusation. Children are not that innocent as they look, but they are also not that simplistic a sum of easy emotions too. They have secrets, unexplainable hurts, and layered psychologies at work, and this film tackles that portion, as well as a small town’s paranoia so well.

Was the little girl telling an absolute lie? Or did something happen to her, may be not by the man she accused but by somebody else? And why were other children telling the same story? Not everybody I talked to had so many unanswered queries about the story, but then, that’s why the film has stayed with me. It opens up if you think about it.

7. Beasts of the Southern Wild/Benh Zeitlin: The best of Hollywood (un)formula – Uplifting underdog story, backdrop of a new world’s exploration, narrated with vivid imagination, allegorical references, excellent background score, and performances that make your jaw drop. Also, director’s first feature, making it all the more special.



6. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry/Alison KlaymanAi Weiwei is an artist in desperate times. And like all the great art of desperate times – his art is rooted in deep irony and impromptu sense of humor. His response to the Chinese reverence for Han Dynasty and rationalization of  every brutal act by invoking the great lineage/history they have (almost like Maratha politicians’ for The Great Shivaji) was this simple series of 3 photographs.  Like a veteran comic, he knows the power of symbols. One evening, as he is dining with his fans and volunteers at a restaurant table laid on the roadside, hostile cops (who want him dead) film him from a distance. His response? He tells his team to film the cops filming them, and continues eating at his own pace.

There are many more examples, and the film is full of them. But more than the examples, the film documents his essence, origin of his ideas (they mostly come to him in an instant, like a punchline for a tweet), and his response to some of the backbreaking hits the authorities have given him. A very important, but equally enjoyable documentary.

5. Stories We Tell/Sarah Polley: This one I liked a lot on the first viewing. But after the festival is over, am not very sure of the take-homes from this one. A very personal journey of Sarah Polley, turning the camera towards her family (VERY complicated family actually – mom married twice and probably slept with other men too), and trying to find the truth about her own parentage. She talks to her father, siblings, suspected real-fathers, wives of suspected real-fathers, and so on. She pieces together the domestic and romantic life of her mother who had died when Sarah was just a kid.

What emerges is both fascinating and complicated – and hence very cinematic. The best part though is her insistence on using her father (not the suspected one, the one she grew up with and for whom the news of her being from another man is going to be the most devastating) as the narrator of the story. The narration, written with lots of introspection and understanding, and delivered with no hint of ‘personal’, is the most innovative, irony-laden tool of the film.

4. Amour/Michael Haneke: You are a piano teacher, 70 years old. You go out to a concert with your husband. Enjoy it. More so, as one of your earlier pupils is playing. Come back home, sleep, and wake up next morning to have a lovely breakfast with your husband in a small sunlit kitchen, as you have been  having for the last 30-40 years probably. Sometime during the breakfast, your brain stops responding to stimuli. Your husband is baffled and you are in disbelief moments later when your senses reappear.

This is the beginning of the end. A life of million experiences is about to fold itself unto itself. From here on, every moment is a gift, every action a struggle, and every day the last of many. Michael Haneke’s Amour lives-in with such a couple, documenting their days, daily-diary style, and bringing us closer to the feeling of loss, recollection of memories (some, which may not have even happened but are registered nonetheless), and the last rites of a life lived moderately, a life lived like most of us do or aspire to do – simply, honorably, and lovingly.

It is heartbreaking at places, but not because of the drama. In fact, Haneke side-steps from the drama and focuses on the mundane, the tedious, and still manages to bring out the graph of slow decay in a masterly manner. The mood gets under your skin if you are patient and your phone is switched off, and stays for a long time.

3. Ship of Theseus/Anand Gandhi: I have been struggling with this scenario for some time now, this concept of duality. Not in a spiritual sense (that is still many years away I think) but in a very daily-life sense. Have been swinging between left and right ideologies, between Arundhati Roy and her detractors,  between hedonism of sab chaat lo/bator lo and nihilism of sab chootiyapa hai,  between the urge to document every travel trip through photographs/ticket stubs  and the need to live in the moment, and many other, similar conundrums. Anand Gandhi picks up three such stories of duality, set in three different worlds, and binds them together through the philosophical paradox of Ship of Theseus.

If that sounded heavy then yes, ambition-wise the film is this heavy. But the beauty is that the team has pulled-it off with great cinematic value in each frame and line of writing. The characters are talking a language rarely heard before on Indian cinema’s screen.  The language of loaded words and of a life lived in knowledge. The 3 stories – a visually-impaired photographer about to get new eyes, an atheist monk and stand-up comic cum lawyer sparring on about the relative value of an animal’s (and human’s) life, and a man with a new kidney having doubts about the legality and ethics of the transplant – explore one genuine doubt each (माकूल शक़  as KK Raina said in Ek Ruka Hua Faisla) about existence and mortality. If a film’s merit is in showing a new world with great authenticity and insight, then Ship of Theseus shows us three. And to top that, terrific performances, excellent background score, one brilliant song in Prakrit language, and consistently sharp photography throughout made this most-awaited Indian film of the year for me absolutely worth the hype.

2. No/Pablo LarrainWhat a beautiful premise – Under international pressure, General Pinochet of Chile allowed a plebiscite after 15 years of dictatorship in 1988. The choices were simply a YES or NO. The state controlled TV, as part of the agreement, had to run a 15 minute ad-campaign daily for both the options. Rene Saavedra, played by that face-of-million-emotions Gael Garcia Bernal, is a top copywriter who picks up the NO campaign and builds it in spite of all the threats, his own meek nature, a troubled relationship at home, and his doubts about the people he’s working for.

A historical documentation, an insider’s look at ad industry, an underdog story, and a personal drama all rolled into one – NO is flawless in its execution and writing. Shot on a Beta-cam, probably to match the look of the film with the actual TV footage of the ad campaigns and Pinochet’s speeches from the ’80s, the frames are burning most of the time, adding another layer of surreal and time-stamp on it. And the best part – the story is told with a lightness of touch, a wink and a nudge at places, and full blown satire at others. (Wait for the scene where a top govt. officer/bureaucrat is having an orange). Just my kind of film!

1. Holy Motors/Leos Carax: As the often repeated line goes – ‘The best cinema is the kind where the film starts after it has ended on screen.’ Cinema that inspires you to go home, google, and read everything about the plot analysis, director’s interviews and biography, writer’s previous works, and detailed reviews by renowned critics; Cinema that is accessible enough to engage but abstract enough to leave the final interpretation to the viewers; Cinema that is like an art installation – weird, unreasonable, extreme, and still (to quote a character from the film) “the beauty of the act” resonates.

Leos Carax’s Holy Motors is all this and much more. (I’d suggest you don’t read anything about the plot before watching it as the joy of discovering it will be much more then. So ideally, leave this page now. For the ultra-curious, the cat is dead from the next sentence onward.) A mysterious man, Monsieur Oscar, whose work-space is a limousine, goes around town, donning different make-ups and living a chunk of somebody’s life for a small duration. So for one assignment, he is an old beggar lady by the Seine in Paris, for another the anarchy man from the sewers (also featured in Carax’s short for Tokyo, Merde), and for yet another, father of an under-confident middle class girl. He has 10 assignments in a day, each of a different genre and character, some extremely weird, some extremely ordinary, and he lives each of them with the commitment of a successful suicide bomber.

But why is he doing this? Is Monsieur Oscar, the ‘life’ he comes back to in between two assignments, also one of the ‘roles’ that he is playing for this day only? Is every character in the film a similar on-the-move ‘employee’ of some grand scheme, getting off his/her limousine and acting out a role for a duration? Why nobody dies, or only some people die at some of the times? There are many more queries, but they may reveal more of the stories hence not quoting them here. And to make things even more surreal – the film is a visual fusion-reaction. Right from the prologue (where a man pushes the wall of his home to find a hidden cinema hall behind it), to the futuristic ‘dance of mating’ sequence, to two ex-lovers walking dazed in a post-apocalyptic mall – it just gets more and more adventurous.

It may not have given me much meaning – but it’s the most blood-rush I will get at cinemas this year. That, and many pieces of an unfinished puzzle, made Holy Motors the best film at MFF this year.


MFF 2012 Diary – Day 5

This is going to be a quick post. I literally have a train to catch. Watched just two films on Day 5.

Amour/2012/Michael Haneke/France: 

- The film that came with hype bigger than any other in this festival. The day we came to know Amour is going to be at MFF, dil mein MFF ki izzat/aukaat badh gayi.

- The problem with films with big hype is that they always tend to underwhelm you. Like most people I know didn’t get as bowled over by Rust and Bone as I did when I watched it for the first time at Cannes. Film’s actual merit apart, I think in Mumbai it was being judged on the basis of excellent reviews out of Cannes (Peter Bradshaw had a 4-star review for it), and Jacques Audiard’s previous film A Prophet. I know filmmakers who complain that ‘fanboys’ go in with too much expectations and ruin the film for themselves, but I don’t think there is any way out of it. Reputation nahin hogi toh hum Haneke ya Audiard dekhne ke liye marenge hi kyon? And I think most of cinema lovers do keep mumbling to themselves ‘keep your expectations low’ while entering a big film. And so was I, while entering the theatre to watch Amour. 

- In spite of huge hype, Amour worked for me totally. It’s like a personal diary of a man dealing with the slow decay of a life of love, memories, music, and promises. It won’t move you to tears (there is no background score to aid that process) but it will, if you can connect, take you into a zone of silence and heartbreak. A mood that stays with you for a long time. (Will write a detailed post on this one too, after the fest.)

- Michael Haneke’s writing and cinema craft are a masterclass in themselves. What observations, what staging, and what performances by the lead pair. (None of it should surprise though. It’s Michael Haneke after all.)

Electrick Children/2012/Rebecca Thomas/ USA: 

- Shouldn’t have gone for an American film, I kept telling myself half-way through the film.

- Started off as a serious-toned, mystery or inspection into beliefs/religion.  Went into goofy comedy, and ended as a stoner film with the real possibility of Anupam Kher appearing and telling the leading girl ‘Bhaag Pooja Bhaag’.

- A girl thinks she is pregnant due to an immaculate conception with a music cassette and goes out in search of the singer. Great plot, but what an immaculate deception it turned out to be.

MFF 2012 Diary – Day 3 and 4

One thing I realized this time, thanks to the daily commute of roughly 4-hours to and from the festival venue. Watching a film festival is as much a measure  of your love for cinema as it is a test of your fitness. Running down the railway station stairs to catch Virar-Churchgate fast that is arriving in 1-minute, keeping your senses alert and combative till a seat is found in the crowded train (generally happens after initial 30-minutes of standing at the optimum place – somewhere in the middle of two rows so that you have double the probability of getting a seat), taking the 2-3 kilometer walks from Churchgate station to the venue, and of course keeping your legs folded and hands tied for the duration of the films. That’s why, people who look so enthusiastic on day 1 or 2 of the festival start dropping out by 3rd/4th day. Or start looking like one of the characters from depressing European cinema they are watching.

That’s why, if you don’t sleep mid-screening at least once, you aren’t doing a film festival right.

Digression done.

Day 3

Shameless/2012/Filip Marczewski/Poland: 

Festival’s centerpiece film Michael Haneke’s ‘Amour’ was cancelled in the morning. Theories abound – they couldn’t find the password to open the disk (apparently, password is sent just one hour before the screening to avoid piracy etc.), the file format they sent was unreadable, that they had a special screening for Tina Ambani and friends the previous night and didn’t realize the password is valid for one screening only. (Thankfully, Amour is screening today afternoon finally.)

So in the slot emptied by ‘Amour’, we headed for ‘Shameless’. And why not? The trailer and synopsis made it read like a juicy piece on a sex-filled drama about a brother and sister. In many ways, it can be thought of as a prequel to Steve Mcqueen’s ‘Shame’, again about a brother and sister having problems due to their unusual sexual ‘conditions’. The ‘troubled place’ Carey Mulligan’s Sissy talks about but is never shown in the film could be imagined as vaguely similar to this. But that’s the only good I could extract out of this film with so many coincidences, thin sub-plots, and sexually charged but never lighting up  mood. Ending, in true European cinema fashion, was abrupt and frustrating. So was most of the film too.

The Taste of Money/2012/Sang-soo Im/South Korea

This reminded me, above all, of DD afternoon show ‘Swabhimaan’ (the one with Rohit Roy, Kittu Gidwani, Manoj Bajpayi et al). A family drama about rich, perverted, crazy for power and sex people. Had a few moments of brilliance, but overall was quite self-serious and  at places, hilariously ridiculous. The worst watch in this festival for me. P.S. – It was the kind of film where in an emotional scene, it starts raining heavily.

Sunrise/1927/F.W. Murnau/USAHadn’t seen any film by this master of silent cinema – Murnau, and thanks to this rare opportunity by MFF, I got to see one of his best. So much visual experimentation in a 1927 film, and so original humor and slice-of-life moments (the two toughest things to write in my opinion). And Liberty Cinema, with its red carpeted staircase and red-leather finish chairs in balcony was just the perfect venue for this chicken-soup of a film.

Kauwboy/2012/Boudewijn Koole/Netherlands: 

The last film of the day was an easy watch. Jojo finds a chick Jackdaw fallen out of its nest, carries it home and pets it, while his always-angry-and-cruel single-father learns to love his son over the course of the film. It was that simple a plot, told with lots of humor, emotion, music, and slice-of-life moments. Very little could have gone wrong with this, and very little did.

(Am tempted to add – It should do well in close-knit-family oriented territories of Central and Northern India. First weekend collections should be good. The Jackdaw bird does a satisfactory job but could have done better in emotional scenes. Music was as per the need, and editing was good, but another 10-minutes shorter and it would have crossed 20-crores in 1st weekend.)




Day 4

Holy Motors/2012/Leos Carax/France-Germany:  How does one begin writing about this film? A film that is trying to break every convention, burn every book, and shake every belief about cinema in particular and philosophy of life and living in general. It starts with a dream-like sequence of a man breaking a wall to enter the balcony of a cinema hall, where people are watching a film while a naked baby and huge bull-dogs parade the aisles. And from here on, it gets more bizarre. But it’s the variety of bizarre that keeps you completely engaged (I had donated my senses and soul to the film completely, within initial 15-minutes), asking you to stay alert and try piecing together the information, and in return giving you visuals and events of such ambition that your brain’s g-spot is constantly in a rub.

Though for the best experience, I’d suggest you go for it without reading ANYTHING about the film or its plot (as I did) because most of the reviews do give out the philosophical connotations the film is hinting at. And that means some of the awe of discovering it for the first time is gone.

It reminded me of many things, from Hindu mythology to  reptile-race-aliens based science-fiction to Freud’s ‘On Dreams’ to this short film to one of my all-time favorite films, Charlie Kaufman’s ‘Synecdoche, New York’ – another crazy, inventive journey into trying to point out the loopholes in the normal understanding of why/how we exist. And in spite of all this apparent depth, the film is never heavy. In fact, it’s comical at quite a few places, and musical at quite a few others. Will write a detailed piece after the fest is done, and after I’ve watched it one more time when it’s out online.

The Hunt/2012/Thomas Vinterberg/Denmark: Ideally, nothing should have been watched after the high of Holy Motors, but the greedy festival junkies we are, chucking a film as hyped as The Hunt would have been out of character. Going with the image of Scandinavian cinema, this one too had a cold and dark feel to it. A man, accused of a sex-offense by a kindergarten kid, faces the witch-hunt from a small hunting-crazy town of Denmark. The film gets heavier and intense as it proceeds, but in spite of all its finesse (in almost every department), it failed to impress me much. May be I was still in Holy Motors zone, or may be it worked on too predictable lines of persecution and silence – I found it quite a middling, safe attempt. The last section and the epilogue are terrific though. Good enough to redeem the depressing-frustrating middle.

Something in the Air/2012/Olivier Assayas/France: Ghanta kuchh samajh nahin aaya. French version of ‘Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi’. Set in 70’s France, featuring a group of students learning and unlearning the neo-communist movement. Bas itna hi samajh mein aaya. Rest of it was oppression-repression-dissolution-subaltern-minimalistic-bourgeoisie-mumbojumbovadapaav. Excellent production design, a couple of sex-scenes, and evocation of an era gone by were the only redeeming factors. I even stopped reading subtitles after the 1st hour and just spent time looking at the props and recreation of the 70’s France.














MFF 2012 Diary – Day 2

Disclaimer: I don’t think I’ve turned into that post-1990-born creature that thinks, reads, and writes only in English but since am short of time, decided to file this entry in English today. Not because I think (faster) in English, but because English typing is faster and as a related brain function, when you type faster, crisper words come to you. (Or so I think.)

Also, quick notes today. (‘Amour’ calls tomorrow morning.)

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry/2012/Alison Klayman/USA:

- Behind the iron curtain, there is an artist struggling to retain his freedom, and in the process turns his protest into art, and curtain into an art-installation.

- A very ‘upbeat’ documentary (mainly ‘cos so many frames are full of his artistic creations, and his calm, about-to-smile face) about  a very angry but very optimistic man that took a few years in the making, and hence capturing Ai Weiwei at very crucial moments in China’s recent history. (The 2009 Earthquakes, Nobel for Liu Xiaobo, post-Olympic demolition of his studio over his criticism of Chinese government).

- Hope they put it out online for free distribution because that goes totally with the spirit of Ai Weiwei.

- After seeing this and Michael Moore’s ‘Bowling for Columbine’, I started loving India more. See both of these to know what words like freedom, liberty, human rights, angst, and censorship may mean in different contexts, countries, and times.

- Also, the best advertisement ever for Twitter. They should just sponsor it and show it to the world. Ai Weiwei uses twitter like Gandhi used Satyagraha, and to great results. “Don’t retreat. Retweet.”

- Can your cat open the latch door? If yes, are you fascinated by it?

The Bay/2012/Barry Levinson/USA: 

- Another ‘found footage’ film with elements of creature-based horror and zombie.

- Goes on for too long after having made the point.

- Not a fan of found footage genre anyway. Also the most difficult genre I guess. Stripped of visual grandness, technical finesse, and controlled-environment drama (and most of the background score), Cinema is tough to please.

- More creepy and gory than chilling.

Rust and Bone/2012/Jacques Audiard/France-Belgium

- 2nd watch hence less satisfying but still, so many terrific moments created and captured so well.

- Marion Cotillard is that rare female – thinking man’s sex symbol as well as non-thinking man’s sex symbol too. She’s in top form in this, and is on top too in one scene.

- Audiard’s previous one ‘A Prophet’ was more gritty, more abstract and complicated too, but this one is fairly straightforward, on the verge of feelgood, and dealing with a less complex world/character(s). So yes, slightly less ambitious, but never mind, he still makes high-cinema out of the material at hand. Some of the best romantic repartee in a world of non-romantics is here, and in a way, this could be called Audiard’s attempt at interpreting a ‘romance drama’.

- Just like in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’, lots of shadows and light-play, another subtle ‘homage’ to Malick may be?


MFF 2012 Diary – Day 1

फिर फेस्टिवल: 

यह निरा रोमांटिक सा आइडिया है, डायरियाँ लिखना. और मैं अब ३० पार करने के बाद ख़ासा रोमांटिक रहा नहीं. पर डायरी लिखना समय को पकड़ने की एक कोशिश भी है, जो लोग ३० पार करने के बाद ज्यादा करने लगते हैं. तो यह वो वाली डायरी है जो खुद को भरोसा दिलाना चाहती है कि इसकी असली value आज नहीं, आज से ५० साल बाद होगी जब हम ना होंगे, जब कोई इसे मुड़ के खोलेगा और इसे antique वाली इज्ज़त देगा.

इस ब्लॉग पर आखिरी पोस्ट पिछले साल के मुम्बई फिल्म फेस्टिवल की डायरी से ही है. साल बीता, लोग बिगड़े, देश पर और गर्त चढ़ी, और फिल्म फेस्टिवल वापस आया. आज सुबह तक सोचा था इस साल डायरी नहीं लिखूँगा क्योंकि इस बार फेस्टिवल का venue घर से बहुत दूर है…आने जाने में ही हर रोज़ साढ़े तीन घंटे बर्बाद हो रहे हैं तो लिखने के लिए अलग से समय कैसे निकले? लेकिन अभी अभी बस, १० मिनट पहले सोचा, कि समय तो उतना धीरे चलता है जितना तेज़ आप टाइप कर सकें. तो सिर्फ कोशिश है….जो आज है, कल हो सकता है ना हो.


Stories We Tell/2012/Sarah Polley/Canada : कम से कम एक उम्र में सबको लगता है कि उनका परिवार weird है. जिनको बचपन में लगता है, उनको बड़े होकर नहीं लगता (क्योंकि शायद वो खुद वैसे हो जाते हैं), और जिनको बचपन में नहीं लगता, उनको बड़े होकर लगता है. Sarah Polley ने अपने बिखरे से (महा-weird) परिवार को जोड़ने की कोशिश की है, अपने परिवार के हर सदस्य को एक ही कहानी अपने अपने निजी point-of-view से सुनाने को कहकर. Documentary और drama का इतना शानदार मिश्रण मैंने पहले तो कभी नहीं देखा. Sarah Polley और उनके पिता Michael Polley (जिनकी आँखें बहुत उदास लेकिन आवाज़ बहुत खनक वाली है) एक साउंड-स्टूडियो में हैं जहां Michael Sarah की दी हुयी एक स्क्रिप्ट अपनी आवाज़ में रिकार्ड कर रहे हैं. कैमरा चल रहा है, माइकल जो कहानी कह रहे हैं वो बाप-बेटी दोनों की है. लेकिन माइकल भी उसे ऐसे कह रहे हैं जैसे वो किसी तीसरे की हो. लेकिन धीरे धीरे और किरदार जुड़ते हैं, सब Sarah को Sarah की ही कहानी सुनाते हैं (“मुझे वो भी बताओ जो मुझे पता है, और ऐसे बताओ जैसे मैंने कभी नहीं सुना”, Sarah शुरू में ही यह निर्देश देती है), और आगे बढ़ते बढ़ते फिल्म memories, love, और closure पर एक अद्भुत व्याख्यान बन जाती है.


Beasts of the Southern Wild/2012/Benh Zeitlin/USA: बहुत चर्चे थे इस फिल्म के. Cannes फिल्म फेस्टिवल में Camera d’Or के अलावा ३ और अवार्ड जीते हैं और Sundance में Grand Jury Prize जीता है. मतलब जैसे कोई नामी पहलवान रिंग में आता है, वैसे यह फिल्म जमशेद भाभा थियेटर में आई. और शुरू के पाँच मिनट में ही पूरा मुकाबला जीत लिया. शुद्ध पॉपुलर सिनेमा की आत्मा (uplifting, underdog story), उसपर art cinema की तकनीक का चोगा (imaginative, allegorical, भयानक sound design और music), और चोगे में Indie Cinema की छोटी-छोटी जेबें. पत्थर जैसे बाप और 6 साल की, खुद को प्राग-ऐतेहासिक जीव मानने वाली बेटी की कहानी (हालांकि बहुत देर में पता चला कि वो बेटी है, बेटा नहीं) – जो उनके छोटे से टापू पर आये तूफ़ान के बाद का struggle ऐसे दिखाती है जैसे कविता कह रही हो. अगर थियेटर वाले बत्तियां जल्दी नहीं जलाते तो मैं अंत में और देर तक रोता.


Throw of the Dice/1929/Franz Austen/India-Germany: यह वाली सिर्फ इसलिए देखी क्योंकि Germany से एक Orchestra आया था जो इस silent फिल्म के साथ live music बजा रहा था. यह अनोखा अनुभव फिर कहाँ मिलेगा यह सोच कर हंसल मेहता की ‘शाहिद’ आज कुर्बान करनी पड़ी. और जितना सोचा था, उससे कहीं ज्यादा मज़ा आया. फिल्म अपने आप में बहुत सरल, और काफी मायनों में मसाला थी. जर्मन निर्देशक को हिन्दुस्तानी exotica बेचना था शायद…गाँव की गोरी बनी हिरोइन को अपने पल्लू का भी सहूर नहीं था (क्योंकि वो कोई एंग्लो-इन्डियन ऐक्ट्रेस थी), हाथी, सपेरे, आग खाने वाले कलाबाज़ वगैरह बड़ी देर तक कैमरे के आगे रहे,  राजा निरे ऐय्याश और प्रजा निरी stockholm complex की मारी. लेकिन असली खेल Orchestra का ही था. सिर्फ ८-१० तरह के trumpets, २ तरह के drums, और चिमटा-घंटी से उन्होंने जो समां बाँधा वो out-worldly था. एक तरह से फिल्म को कई जगहों पर reinterpret कर दिया उन्होंने. जहां सीन बहुत self-serious था, वहाँ orchestra ने ‘मेरे हाथों में नौ-नौ चूड़ियाँ हैं’ का एक version बजा कर परदे की कहानी को एक अलग layer दे दी.

और फिल्म ख़तम होने पर मिली तालियों से musicians इतने खुश हुए कि उन्होंने जाते-जाते एक ऐसी धमाल धुन बजाई कि १००० लोगों से भरा auditorium खड़े होकर साथ-साथ लगातार ताली बजाता रहा. पहले दिन का आखिरी अलौकिक राग!


कल क्या देखना है?: Ai Wei-Wei पर एक documentary है, Jacques Audiard की Rust and Bone है (जिसमें खूब भीड़ होने की पूरी संभावना है), और Takeshi Kitano की कान में पेचकस घुसा के मारने वाली Outrage:Beyond है.

10 types of people at Film Festivals

While waiting in queues or between films, I realized there’s a method to the kind of people who attend the film festivals (probably around the world.) This extrapolation comes with slight arrogance of a standup comedy and an equal measure of observation at two Mumbai film Festivals I attended in the last 2 years.

Here goes, the 10 types of people most likely to be seen at a film festival.

1. The Late Guy: This guy, generally an older man, walks in late. In every damn film. And not just 5 or 10 minutes late, sometimes an hour late. Which simply means he just wants to be seen walking out of a film, nodding his head, and telling fellow goers ‘kuchh khaas maza nahin aaya…but it could have been a great metaphor.’

2. The early leaver: As opposed to the late guy, this person walks out 10 or 15 minutes before the film ends. Again, in every damn film. Probably he is so smart that he has already guessed the end and decided it’s not worthy of his intellect, or he wants to keep the suspense alive FOREVER, or that’s his way of saying ‘I am not impressed’.

3. The Einstein Shastri: The man knows it all. And he believes in telling it all. While a film is running on the screen, he is directing a parallel film in his head, and speaking aloud, telling his friend how this scene is too long, how this character’s graph is all fucked-up, and how the film should just end now.

4. The Alien Intellectual: This guy looks like an alien, has spent half his life working at it, and frowns at anybody who goes to watch Hollywood films at the festival. Also, he is the first one to grab the sofa-seats at the back of the hall.

5. The angry journo: The journo wants preferential entry, the journo wants his free water bottle and coffee, the journo wants the organizers to manage the crowds, the journo wants the doors to be closed and movie to be started once he is inside, and the journo will fight for it.

6. The token white guy: Like in Hindi films, there’s a token white guy at Indian film festivals too. He walks around lost, keeps to himself, and is treated like a jury member even when he is not.

7. The token oriental girl with the token white guy: The oriental girl, generally holding a file that may, for all we know, contain Vijay Sales pamphlets walks around seriously, just a step behind the token white guy. She adds to the impression that the guy is a jury member, as well as the feeling that he walks really fast.

8. The fading or rising star: Only two types of stars attend a film festival – the 50-plus fading star or the under-25 rising star. Both have one eye on the schedule and another on people checking them out and going ‘Hey…that is the guy from JK Cement ad.’

9. The long haired dude: This guy has long hair.

10. The over-enthusiastic private film school student who knows shit: A sizeable number of this type actually. love talking in the lift, showing-off their film knowledge. (Actual conversation, overheard in a lift: “Yeh Wong Kar Wai kaun hai? Usko dekhte hain aaj.” “Hai ek chinky. Bhansali copy maarta hai usko.” “Bhansali ki maa ka…”)