Dear Zindagi, you surprised me.

Dear Zindagi, you surprised me.

Once upon a time, we were foolish too. Like paying good money to go watch Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahani. Or buying toothpaste with salt in it. Or thinking ‘Hey, this Arvind Kejriwal fellow seems to be making sense!’

Older and wiser today, we’ve tried to make prudent life choices, one of them being never to watch more than one Bollywood movie in a year, and then too, only something that is as unBollywood-like as possible. So one year it was Kahani. Another year it was Special 26; then Lunchbox and Piku. We even gave 2 States and English Vinglish the benefit of doubt. The years passed by in this languorous way; Sallu bhai kept making movies in between, but those didn’t touch our lives, except for the occasional grimace we gave as we caught a glimpse of them while channel surfing.

“This is good,” we congratulated each other, “We are watching quality movies, not trash.” We’d already earmarked Kahani 2 for this year and there was no reason to believe our plans would change.

But we had reckoned without the crafty marketing team at Bookmyshow. They appealed to the basest, most primal instinct of us Indians – the love for a good deal. They wooed us with cashbacks and card offers, and convinced us that we could watch one more movie practically for free. The catch? It would have to be before December 1st.

How to use this excellent opportunity? (I mean, we were practically making money on it) We scrolled feverishly through the listings – but we’d already watched everything we wanted to watch.

And that’s how we found ourselves in a cold, dark theatre last night, watching Dear Zindagi.

I’ve clearly woken up this morning with a hangover. Let me try and get it out of my system by randomly putting down everything I feel about the movie. Screw structure and subheadings.

I’ve never been a fan of SRK (like ever, god promise). And I would have thought by this time all the botox would have frozen his facial muscles so that whatever little emoting he used to do would also have become a thing of the past. I went in fully expecting SRK to overact and ham up the show – but he didn’t. In fact, he acted his age, looked perfectly comfortable in the skin of Jug and even managed to not take himself too seriously. It was unsettling, to say the least. Now I can’t hate him with the same heartfelt intensity of old. Gah.

To give ourselves the courage to book tickets to Dear Zindagi, we had to tell each other repeatedly that Alia Bhat is a good actress and Gauri Shinde is a good director. After watching the movie, we’ve changed our stance. Alia Bhat is certainly an excellent actress but Gauri Shinde has a long, long way to go.

Every person is born with the capacity to digest a certain quantum of pontification/gyaan. This has to be used judiciously so that it lasts you through your life. So if you’ve already watched a lot of Aamir Khan movies, from TZP to PK, I’d say you should skip this one. Dr.Jehangir Khan does have one or two cool stories and even gives Kaira sensible advice, but by the last thirty minutes of the movie, you’re impatiently looking at your watch and wishing you had a remote so that you could skip ahead.

Old Bollywood habits die hard and no director, however nobly motivated, is really free of these shackles. So they have to drum things into you and shout in your ear, “Get it? Get it? This is what I mean!” That’s why the movie ends with a new, free Kaira who has

  1. made her short film, the ‘longest project of the century’
  2. garnered the admiration and goodwill of all her ex-boyfriends and the family who used to judge and scorn her
  3. met a new potential soulmate
  4. made peace with her parents
  5. accepted herself for who she is
  6. started creating new memories for herself by playing kabaddi with the samunder.

Every single fucking thread is closed so that nobody in the audience has anything to think about or imagine as they drive back home.

In conclusion, I’d like to say that DZ is not a movie that would make you want to stab yourself (Or the makers. Or bookmyshow) in the throat. But it could have been less self-indulgent, shorter by at least 30 minutes, and definitely, definitely gotten Kunal Kapoor to take off his shirt.

The View From My Window

The View From My Window

An ant crawling up the glass.

The dull grey expanse of sky. No clouds in sight.

The tops of buildings, half-constructed.

A patch of green, rich, tempting, like velvet.

Cars gliding in, cars gliding out.

And huddles of smokers, restless on their feet,

their figures slightly bent, pulled forward by intent.

Even the cars seem sure, so full of purpose,

that I feel life is passing me by,

as I sit here, behind a piece of glass.

But I am mesmerized by the view outside my window.

Hypnotized, like one is by fish tanks and terrariums.

I go back to the pretend games of old.

Turn into a microbiologist, watching fascinated,

a petri dish teeming with life.

At that moment, I am detached from what I see.

I could be an alien instead, so great is my wonder.

Or a boy of twelve in a darkened theater,

staring at a bright, flickering scene.

Or an idler at an exhibition, passing time,

staring at the frames, seeing, yet unseeing.

Knowing inside that it all means something.

But not seeing it, growing uneasy.

My phone rings, my table vibrates.

I feel relief, like a river rushing through my veins.

“Hello?” I say, already loving the caller.

My gaze dragged back to the dark indoors.

My attention my own again.

The Warm Fuzzy Feeling Of Compliments

The Warm Fuzzy Feeling Of Compliments

The best compliments I’ve received have been the most unexpected.

Remarks that tell me something I didn’t know about myself. Or those that I’ve got when I least expected it. Or from people whom I’d never have imagined would observe something like that.

It’s a strange and delightful experience, completely different from when you dress well and you know it and someone tells you you’re well-dressed. Or you make a particularly good speech and people clap you on the back and say “Good show!” These don’t warm the cockles of the heart in the same way. Because compliments (like so many human interactions) work on our need for external validation and acceptance.

Sometime last year, we had my husband’s nephew and niece from the US staying with us. This visit was particularly memorable because they were the right age (10 and 14) and we had many interesting conversations during their week-long stay. While making a list of married couples they knew, our niece A2 left out SR and me. When asked why, she said dismissively, “Oh, you and SR maama don’t count. You’re always chilling and having fun!”

Needless to say, SR and I were delighted.

*

“Tell me something you haven’t told me before” is a game that SR and I often play on long drives and quiet evenings at home. The response can be anything from a compliment to a confession, a long-forgotten memory or a funny story – it just has to be something as yet untold. Our theory is that as long as we don’t run out of things to tell each other, we’ll probably stay married.

The last time we played this game, SR told me, “You are a true liberal.”

Divorce, fidelity, having and raising children, vegetarianism, animal welfare, environment protection, cruelty-free living, good writing, filial duties – the list of topics on which I have strong views is fairly long. So this remark quite surprised me.  I then went and checked the definition of ‘liberal’ and found this: liberal-meaning

Quite flattering, I must admit. Ever since then, I’ve tried to live up to that description.

*

Personal hygiene has never been an obsession with me. Important, yes, but not something that dictates my everyday life. For instance, I strongly, strongly believe in washing your privates after every time you pee/poop. Similarly, my dad had taught us to always wash our feet before going to bed (because Nala’s downfall was brought about by Kali who entered his system through his unwashed heel). But I pet my dogs and frequently forget to wash my hands before I eat. Or if I find a stray hair in my food, I don’t retch and run from the table, but pick it out as a matter of course and continue eating.

I’ve never considered myself particularly neat or kempt. That’s why it surprised me when a colleague said one day that I always smell very nice. “It’s not deo or perfume,” she said, “but you just smell nice all the time.”

That’s a line I hug to myself every time I feel a little under-confident about the way I look. I firmly tell myself, “Well, at least, you smell nice.”

*

An after-effect of this rumination is that I am trying to do an Uncle Fred and spread sweetness and light with my compliments. The way I see it, you’ve already observed/thought of something nice – then why not let them know? At worst, they will be embarrassed. But at best, you could make their day.

So this weekend when I was trying out various clothes (and discarding them regretfully because I seem to have graduated from size L but my ego doesn’t allow me to pick up XL), I came across a lady who was trying on a very pretty anarkali dress. Her husband was making all the right noises of encouragement, but she seemed rather doubtful.

I thought it fit her beautifully, but instead of walking right past like I would have, I stopped and told her so. “Really? You think so?” she asked me eagerly.

“It’s perfect,” I told her and strode away grinning because the two of them looked so delighted. Shoppers Stop owes me one.

Hmm, perhaps I should be a professional complimentist (not complimenter, because it sounds so urgh).

Gowri N Kishore. Specialist in honest compliments, guaranteed to delight.

I could work for stores, helping customers make up their minds; in support groups with people recovering from addictions, self-image issues and other emotional disturbances (pro bono, of course); even with PR firms, putting valued guests in a good mood.

Not a bad prospect, actually.

7 Unforgettable Female Characters from Malayalam Cinema (1980 – present)

7 Unforgettable Female Characters from Malayalam Cinema (1980 – present)

This is a list I have been struggling to put together for months now, constantly adding and removing names, wondering whether the actress did justice to the role, whether the role gave the actress enough scope, and whether anyone looking at this list would call it a curation of cliched choices.

That is exactly what I do not want this list to be, wich is why I have tried really hard to omit the obvious names. Hence, Ganga from Manichitrathazhu, Maya Vinodini from Ente Suryaputhrikku, Ammukutty from Aalkoottathil thaniye, and Kuttyedathi are missing even though they certainly deserve to belong. (Here‘s another list I found that has some of the most popular names).

Kanchana [Thalayanamanthram]

Writer: Sreenivasan

Played by the indomitable Urvashi, this is one of my all-time favourite characters. A little manipulative, a little naive, greedy for life’s little luxuries, yet unthinking of the price she would have to pay for it all… Haven’t we all encountered a Kanchana, or at least a version of her, somewhere in life?

To me, the song Mayaponmane perfectly brings out her delightful, thoughtfully sketched character.

 

Pooja [Om Shanti Oshana]

Writers: Midhun Manuel Thomas & Jude Anthany Joseph

The bubbly, yet vulnerable Pooja is a character that must surely have been written with Nazriya in mind, and indeed, she pulls off this role with ease and elan.

What I love most about Pooja is the fact that she has spunk. She decides what she wants and goes all out to get it. She has opinions and no qualms about voicing them. She is unpretentious and funny. Moreover, she is not slotted into a category or oversexed into a tomboy or worse, a girly girl.

Her exchanges with her dad, played by Renji Panicker who seems to have discovered the actor in him fairly late in life, are hilarious. This song tells you quite a lot about her.

 

Gayatri [Artist]

Writer: Shyamaprasad, based on a character written by Paritosh Uttam in his novel Dreams in Prussian Blue

This name came to me fairly late during the making of this list and I was surprised myself that it did. But here it is, and after much deliberation, I believe Gayatri deserves to be here.

This movie makes you wonder: what would you do for love? Not the heroics and histrionics that accompany the battle to win social acceptance for a relationship, but the rags of love that you need to pull together to face each day after you embark on such a relationship.

Gayatri is a a girl who walks out of her ordinary life allured by the vivid, colourful possibilities of a life with her artist lover Micheal. But she has no idea what is about to hit her and eventually succumbs to the relentless demands of everyday existence. Ironically, the very thing that she tried to escape from. .

 

Kalpana [Arike]

Writer: Shyamaprasad, based on a short story by Sunil Gangopadhyay

Kalpana’s is an elusive character – you can never put a finger on what she is really thinking. While she is in a relationship with Shantanu, when she fights her family for his acceptance, when she is in the car with Sanjay and they spiral towards that accident, when she inexplicably changes her mind about Shantanu afterwards…all that time and you keep wondering who Kalpana really is and whether she is capable of truly loving anyone.

The movie reminds me of the mythological story of Ganga and Shantanu. Ganga torments Shantanu with her beauty and her promises and her utter refusal to answer any questions about herself or her actions. She is a celestial, a woman of mystery, who leaves him bewitched and bewildered until the very end.

Samvrutha Sunil is a truly beautiful and talented woman who got very few good roles: I am glad that she got this one before she took a break.

 

Sethulakshmi [5 Sundarikal]

Writers: Shyam, Pushkar and Muneer Ali, based on a story by M. Mukundan

This short film is the most haunting one I’ve ever seen, so much so that I feel quite unable to watch it again, afraid of the emotions that it will let loose. All credit goes to little Anikha who brought Sethulakshmi alive on screen. For a child of her age to even grasp the turmoil that the character is going through is a big deal. But Anikha takes the performance to another level with her micro-expressions, like the quivering of a lip or the hunted look in her eyes.

This uber-talented artist transformed what could have been a mundane, crudely tragic story into something stunning that leaves you  speechless, throat choked up, hand springing to your mouth. I am sure we can look forward to many great things from Baby Anikha.

 

Meera in Mannar Mathayi Speaking

Writers: Siddhique-Lal

I am pretty sure this is one name nobody would have expected to find here. Not surprising, given that the Meera I am talking about is a role played by Geetha Vijayan and lasts barely a few minutes. (In case you’re confused, Vani Viswanath’s character was called Diana and she is merely pretending to be Meera). After her debut in In Harihar Nagar, Geetha Vijayan has sadly been relegated to vampish roles. This is one of the few that she has performed brilliantly and which went unnoticed.

‘Timid rabbit’ is a phrase that is bandied about by romance novelists, but in this one scene, she brings to life a woman paralyzed with fear and with the drugs she has been injected with, staring a horrendous death in the face, yet unable to take one step to save her life. The piteous expression on her face as she takes doddering steps towards the door while Diana screams at her to move, move, to escape, will never fade from my mind.

Watch from 1:40:57 to 1:42:20 here.

 

Ammini [Aranyakam]

Writer: MT Vasudevan Nair

 

I had to Google to find out who the creator of Ammini was and am certainly not surprised that it is MT. Ammini is a dream child, the girl the teenage version of myself most resembled, the ‘vattu pennu’ that my father was afraid I would become. She wanders through the forest, wide-eyed, a thousand stories and fantasies flitting about in her mind, choosing her own company over others’ and eventually succumbing to the allure of an adventure, a mystery. She is a romantic, admiring without understanding, rebellious, yet in the end, defeated, left bereft.

 

 

Unexplored Bangalore #3: aPaulogy Gallery, Richards Town

Unexplored Bangalore #3: aPaulogy Gallery, Richards Town

I first came across Paul Fernandes’ work when I picked up Peter Colaco’s book ‘Bangalore’ and discovered that the delightful illustrations in it were by Fernandes. A little research showed me that he is to Bangalore what Mario Miranda is to Goa. As someone who’s been in love with Bangalore since the age of 15 and who wishes every few days that she could have grown up here in cooler, greener, slower times, I was instantly captivated. So, I made my way over to his gallery to see more of his work and learn a little more about the hip Bangalore of the 60s.

Richards Town is still one of those parts of Bangalore that retains its colonial charm – there are parks and trees, wide roads and pretty houses. His gallery is aptly and punnily titled aPaulogy and is housed in one of the said pretty houses. (I vaguely remember reading that it’s his own).

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aPaulogy gallery in Richards Town, Bangalore

I felt like a kid at a carnival once I stepped in – it was full of fun and quirky Bangalore memorabilia – sketches, paintings, posters and tons of merchandised based on Fernandes’ illustrations. Most of them depict Bangalore of the 60s and 70s and the theme is nostalgia. The props used include some vintage furniture and decor and one small portion of the gallery is dedicated to Mumbai, another city that Fernandes has lived in and connects with.

SR and I definitely wanted to buy a keepsake, and after a long debate, chose his lovely coffee table book: Bangalore: Swinging in the 70s. Someday, when my dogs decide to finally quieten down and behave, I will use it as a coffee table book. Until then, here it stays in my cupboard, to be browsed lovingly and with nostalgic pangs ever so often.

 

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My bookshelf at home

Recommended for: Bangalore enthusiasts

Visit duration: 1 hour

Location & other deets: http://www.apaulogy.com/

Bringing up Buttons

Bringing up Buttons

I am a crazy dog lady, but have rarely felt able to talk about life as a pet parent. But a chat with a friend made me realize that what I have to say might actually be useful to other pet parents and perhaps even encourage someone to take that step and adopt a dog. So, here goes.

We have two dogs – Buttons (25 months old) and Scooby (17 months old); Both male; Both Indies; Both adorable, yet crazy in their own ways. Today’s post is about Buttons. I have written about him before – how he had been tied up in a garbage bag and dumped by the roadside, how he came to us when he was just 2 weeks old, how we foolishly gave him away a few months later, and the battles we had to fight to get him back again.

Life isn’t easy for first-time pet parents – I keep reading complaints about the poop and the pee and the chewing. But all of these are issues that can be solved with discipline and commitment. We have gone through all of these with Buttons and have come out more or less undamaged (not counting the number of cables, doormats, wall paint and  sofa armrests that have borne the brunt of his assault). However, there are bigger, longer lasting issues, the solution to which could just be a compromise or a change in lifestyle or our own attitude to the problem.

Buttons is different from any dog we’ve known (I’m saying this after accounting for any bias I would have as his mom). He is extremely crafty, not just clever, like dogs usually are – you can see the wheels turning in his head when he is considering his next move. He stalks like a wild animal – absolutely silent tread, fluid movements, alert to the tiniest of noises within a one-kilometre radius… As a handsome dog, he attracts attention wherever he goes and stories about him always elicit laughter and cries of “Aww”. But life with him is not all sunshine and roses.  SR and I have jokingly told each other that Buttons is a special needs child – but in my mind, I know this  is actually true.

The same things that make him such an interesting little fellow also make him very difficult to handle. Take for instance, his alert-dog nature. He is very good as a guard dog, but he is also a major barker. Anything from the sound of the BBMP garbage truck to footsteps in the corridor to a calling bell ringing in the next block will set him off on a volley of barks. Biggest and worst fear – the metallic clang of gas cylinders.

Most dogs are peaceful, if not friendly, by nature. Mine isn’t. He doesn’t like anyone approaching the house, be it a guest or a delivery boy. He is a ladies’ man – he loves my mom, SR’s mom, and a couple of my friends who have stayed over. But he doesn’t take too kindly to strange men. Our erstwhile cook of eight months kept trying to make friends with him, offering tidbits of paneer and roti and veggies. Sir Barkalot would coolly accept the offering and then start snarling at the poor man!

Another  thing about him is that he cannot be motivated or trained using food, treats, praise, or toys: these simply do not interest him. When he does something, he does it for the fun of it, because he wants to solve the puzzle or do the activity. His favourite game is Tug, but unfortunately, he takes it very, very seriously – if he loses, he will keep bringing his rope toy or Kong to us for another round; if you let him win just to end the game, he gets pissed off; so you have to keep playing till you tire out and lose the game for real.

Did I mention he hates walks? Yep, that’s right. Every time we bring the harness out, he runs and hides under a sofa. It’s only when we totally ignore him and put the harness on Scooby instead that he decides he would like a walk himself. Funnily enough, once he is out, he really enjoys exploring and sniffing around at the exciting smells in the parking lot. Hates the lift, especially the whoosh sound it makes as the doors close- so god forbid it pings on the floor he is on when he is in the corridor!

He gets bored if you give him the same food for more than 3-4 days, even if it’s chicken and rice, and would rather go hungry than eat boring stuff. Yet, he is extremely protective of his food and has to be left in a room by himself while he eats. You can touch his bowl only after he has walked away from it.

He loves us to bits. but doesn’t know how to show it by cuddling or licking or kissing like Scooby does. However, he will always lie down in the room that we are in, so that he can keep an eye on us. He is fiercely loyal and protective of me – if I am ill and don’t stir out of bed for a whole day, he stays by my side the whole time, not eating, not drinking. Yet, this is the same guy who’s bitten me thrice, because I couldn’t anticipate and handle his reaction the right way. (In case anyone’s wondering, we have taken help for his behaviour issues from the eminent Sindhoor Pangal and what I have described is the new and improved version of Buttons. Go figure!)

I just scrolled up and read everything I have written so far, and I realize I’ve made him sound like an absolute nightmare. That is as far from the truth as is possible.

To earn the love of a dog is very easy – but to earn the trust of a suspicious and fearful one is not. Despite the times of anger and frustration, we cannot imagine life without our boy. He means everything in the world. When he trots over and puts his head in our lap or licks our hand, when he hears something that worries him and presses close to us, when he runs into SR’s arms and asks to be picked up, when he climbs into bed and shares a pillow with me even for a few minutes…those are the precious moments that make it all worth it.

I dedicate this post to all the parents of special needs fur kids out there, who face rejection and struggles every day but love them just the same. Our world would be colourless without them.