Saturday, December 11, 2010

Food at Clarke's Quay and Newton

If you're visiting Singapore, one thing is guaranteed. You'll never go hungry. With multiple eateries at a stone's throw from one another in Little India, to gigantic food plazas like Newton, there's enough non-vej and vej people. We wanted to try out Clarke's Quay on our first day but thanks to rains- oh yes it rains almost everyday in Singapore-we had to postpone till after 2-3 days. Clarke's Quay is a cluster of about 30 odd eateries alongside the Singapore river. A few blocks away is the Boat Quay which also has similar restaurants. These restaurants serve almost any cuisine there is to be tasted in the world. From fusion Indian, to Thai to Chinese to even just desserts, there's ample on the platter to savour. I am a sucker for Thai food and apart from Chinese, you must taste Thai food in any of these East Asian countries. The restaurants that are immediately adjacent to the river are meant for families, whilst those that are a bit inside are pubs and open-air bars meant for the young crowd. Renn Thai- our place- was adjacent to the river. The restaurant next to us was an Indian cuisine, and it felt very nice to see the goras sitting out there and enjoying a nice good Indian meal.

And the breezy setting was perfect after a long and tiring day outing. A little pleading with the Maitre D-Hotel got us the window seats (those immediately adjacent to the river) but it was worth it. Though the food gets cold pretty fast thanks to the riverside breeze. Prawns and chicken Thai curry rice; absolutely awesome. Reminded me of Thai Pavillion, but thankfully at half that cost and as authentic Thai as it can get. A single gravy / curry portion is quite enough for two, but rice quantity is always small. You may need two bowls of rice per person. We had desserts at another restaurant called Necterie, inside Clarke's Quay, nestled away in the midst of the many bars and pubs of Clarke's Quay. 

 Our other eating sojourn was at Newton's. This is not as upmarket as Clarke's Quay, but a must-do, nevertheless. It is much like Khao-galli, if you've ever been to Mumbai, but with many seats and tables. Food stalls lined up and their Maitre D falling over one another to woo you to have a meal with them. We had prawns again here and steamed fish with rice. Again, a fair share of Indian restaurants are here too. Hygiene is always maintained irrespective of where you eat, so eat to your heart's content while in Singapore.

Clean and Green Singapore: First Impressions

There's a sense of comfort you get when you enter Singapore. First, it's spotlessly clean airport- whose magnificent size you don't get any idea about till you actually enter it through the departure lounge or are transiting through Singapore- greets you with open arms. There's ample of space and the airport is uncluttered.  But you get a sense of Singapore once you hit the road. Trees are the dominant theme; you'll find them everywhere. At the side of the roads, in the middle of roads on road dividers, on open grounds and not-so-open grounds fighting space with the concrete jungle- unlike anywhere you'll ever see- sprouting from the sides of- and almost  underneath- the flyover and growing tall almost the height of the flyovers, you'll find trees everywhere. Singapore is one of the greenest cities I've ever seen.

The other thing that hits you- if you're Indian- is that you'll see a lot of Indians. Especially in and around a place called Little India where incidentally we too had stayed. Lots of Tamils and Mallus. But it's a great place to stay because it suits the budget and it is very well connected, thanks to Singapore's awesome public transport (underground rail, bus and taxi network)

Apart from greenery, Singapore also seems to have a zero tolerance towards cleanliness. Food is cheap to averagely priced to highly priced. But if you're willing to open your wallet just a bit much, you'll never go hungry in Singapore. There's ample of food there. We feasted at the Newton's food plaza- a large cluster of food stalls that serves sumptuous meals at moderate prices. This is a must-must on every tourist's agenda. A slightly upmarket option are the numerous river-side eateries- bunched together across two Quays; Clarke Quay and Boat Quay. We had dinner at Clarke's Quay at this fabulous Thai cuisine restaurant called Renn Thai. Authentic Thai food, as good as Mumbai's Thai Pavillion, but at perhaps half the cost. Because the place is so hygienic, you can eat anywhere and not worry. You even drink water straight from the sink, just like in the US.

Getting around in Singapore is very easy. Thanks to their public transport- their underground rail and bus network is as good as it can get- you can go almost everywhere. Ofcourse, some walking is required and at times taxis are a must too, but that's okay. Just take an MRT (Mass Rapid Transport) pass from any of the underground rail stations and you can then seamlessly travel on their trains, buses and also MRT-affiliated taxis. MRT is the most cost efficient way of travelling within Singapore.

Night life must be sampled. I am not talking discos here, I mean Singapore city under lights. The city, just like Hong Kong, just comes alive under the stars. It's all very glitterring. Take a walk the alongside the Singapore river from Clarke's Quay all the way to Merlion or take a boat ride one way and then walk your way back. Visit Botanical gardens (do take a walk within, at the Orchid Park) and don't forget to take a walk at Orchard Road; Singapore's haven for shopoholics.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Amitabh's KBC

There's something about Amitabh Bachchan when he hosts Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC). He may be the biggest movie star in Indian cinema, but he appears our next door neighbour when he is on the hot seat. The kind whose house you can go to every day in the night and casually ask "bhai, kya haal chaal hain aake?"Or if I were to put it less diplomatically, go with some beer, straight to his kitchen, fetch two glasses, open the bottle, pour beer, offer him one and say "kya boss kya ho raha hain, how are you man?" Or the old uncle in the building who kids address as 'Hello Amitabh uncle, how are you?' as he gets off the building lift with a jhola tagged over his shoulders. Ofcourse you can't walk into Jalsa to ask these type of question, let alone with a bottle of beer in your hands, his security guards will throw you out. Nor can you break the cordon around the place where he's shooting for a film, and rush to him to seek an autograph. But when he is on the hot seat, you can get away by asking the most idiotic questions and Bachchan will answer with a smile.

That's what makes KBC so special. It's not just any quiz show. As soon as you win the first hurdle 'Fastest Finger First (FFF)', he welcomes you with open arms. Winners of this stage cannot believe whether they just won FFF or whether they're going to meet, talk and sit with Amitabh Bachchan. I am sure very few must actually be thinking of that Rs one crore; such is the overwhelming feeling you can get faced with the prospect of being welcomed by Bachchan. He puts you at ease with his humour and his jokes. Husbands on hot seats are teased in front of their wives that cheer from the audience; he subtly fingers the wives on hot seats as he makes an attempt to remind them of something funny. The audience roars with laughter, amused.

But not all contestants have a happy tale to share. Some have a grim past like KBC's first lady crorepati- a super confident and intelligent lady- who claimed to have never ever seen Rs3.20 lakh (the second hurdle she cleared) in her life. Your heart goes out for such people and it is a reminder how important- and elusive- money is for a majority of Indians. I couldn't miss the irony as Amitabh (one of India's richest celebrities and for whom Rs3.20 lakh must be a pittance) heard this just as he was signing this cheque. To have won KBC with such elan as this lady did, I wonder for whom it was a bigger honour; for her or for Amitabh to have been writing a cheque of Rs3.20 lakh (he would write many more cheques eventually, till Rs One crore) for this lady. To still understand a poor man's thrill of winning amounts that Bachchan may not even think twice before spending, is a feeling we get only from Amitabh.

That doesn't mean he is unprofessional. Sometimes he tries to warn you by asking you repeatedly if you are going on the wrong path. But you stick to your path and you are allowed to make your own mistakes. Nobody, not even Bachchan, can help you. But that's what the game is all about. Still, for many, it is the thrill of spending 30 minutes of your life with Bachchan. I could not feel that connection with SRK; he always came across as superstar when he hosted KBC. But Amitabh is one of us, our neighbour, friend, uncle who takes you on the Rs1 crore journey, holding your hands.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Anti Censorship: An upper crust fixation

Last week, when the Government of India ruled that two Indian TV reality shows (Big Boss and Rakhi Ka Insaaf) to be moved at late night slots (after 11 pm) and not be shown during prime time, I observed that it did not go down well with the civil society and thinkers alike. After all, isn't 11 pm too soon these days? Kids can easily turn on TV after 11 pm too. In today's hectic world, we are invariably awake- probably eating dinner- at that time, so it's not hard for us to switch on TV after 11 pm. But most importantly, is censorship required? If the viewers want to watch, who are the authorities to not to allow us to?

I've never been a fan of Indian censorship, either in its naked form (the moral types) or in disguised form (structured process) but there is a limit. Though censorship in India is a bit hypocritical and outdated, there are times when someone needs to interfere. The rubbish that gets shown on TV- in the name of reality shows- is nauseating. Both these shows show other people's dirty linen. While Big Boss smacks of voyeurism with people with high notoriety quotient we couldn't care less, Rakhi Ka Insaaf shows drama queen Rakhi Sawant as an arbitrator (I wouldn't liken her to a judge and thereby belittle the legal fraternity) who aims to settle disputes between parties. She dispenses justice in her style; loud, unabashed, even calling people namard (this one allegedly drove a participant to suicide), or where the participants engage in fights so embarrassing to watch it ourselves, much less allow your kids to watch. Ofcourse, many clips are on YouTube where anyone can log on and watch it. Even shifting it to 11 pm slot may do little to curb it's nuisance value; infact the more it is in the news, the more eyeballs it could attract. That's always been the dangers of censoring.

The problem is that once you start censoring, the flood gates open. What should you censor and what you shouldn't. Hollywood classic films like 'American Beauty' are not shown on TV anymore (to the best of my knowledge, or even if they're shown the nudity I am sure would be wiped out), nor is nudity allowed even though it may make sense in certain films, but Kangaroo courts are telecasted on TV in the name of reality shows. Censor such shows and civil society slams them. But the question is: what should we let go and what should we control? After all, not all censorship is bad. The need of the hour is to decide where scissors are really required, because clearly self-censorship isn't working.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in Mint

Men's tennis' top eight players share their views with Mint, on their best and worst of 2010, ahead of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals (WTF), which begins on Sunday. The world's top eight players qualify for the WTF. It's all here; Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and all of them spoke to Mint via an emailed interview.

Harry Potter and the Social Network

Watched 'The Social Network' last Thursday and 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - part 1' today. The Social Network is a classic film and surely one of the best of 2010. It's about how Facebook was founded, allegedly amidst theft, greed and deceit. I don't know how much of the Facebook story is true- I've heard that Mark Zuckerberg has distanced himself with the book 'The Accidental Billionaire' again allegedly a semi-biopic of him, and on which this movie is based upon. Nevertheless, if you're on Facebook, you must watch this film. I bet you'll look at FB a bit differently after watching this movie. It's not an action movie, yet is extremely engaging and fast-paced. There's not a dull moment. performances from the lead actor, his buddy and the entire staff is amazing. Despite being full of dialogues- and spoken really fast at at that you mat miss out on a few lines here and there- it captures your attention; the script runs like the edge of a sat thriller.

The above trailer is sourced from YouTube

I watched Harry Potter at the Imax Dome theater in Wadala, Mumbai. Only now they've removed the actual dome screen (the building structure and the insides of the theater remains) and replaced with a FLAT screen. But this screen is said to be the largest in town; atleast its the largest flat screen I've seen. It's quite an experience to watch a Hollywood movie here with special effects. Because the makers divided into two parts (Part I is released now; Part II will release in July 2011), the Part I rarely left out anything from the book so far. Details of many scenes from the book were left out, but all the important portions of most of the scenes are in the movie. The imprisonment and torture of the troika (Harry, Hermoine and Ron) was greatly shortened and without any sting, but apart from that, rest was all there. Few liberties are taken from the book such as an impromptu dance between Harry and Hermoine (the former tries to cheer up the latter who is devastated) inside the forest tent in the middle of the forest a few days after Ron abandons them. But the scene stealer is Lord Voldemort (masterfully enacted by Ralf Fiennes). As the evil wizard wanting to take control of the wizarding world, get rid of muggles (non magic people), Fiennes plays the part to perfection and evokes every bit of hatred from the viewer. Just the way he holds his wand, looks into your eye or cast a curse at you emanates terror and sends a chill down your spine. There's a certain energy and an edge-of-the-seat excitement every time he comes on screen, though he largely is there in the first and the last scene. Clearly, the best 'baddie' performance in cinema history, despite the least amount of dialogues.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Guzarish: A caricature

A serious matter such as Euthanasia ought to deserve a better tale than Guzarish, a movie by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, starring Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai. I watched the movie yesterday and came out disappointed.    At the end of three-hour extended marathon, Euthanasia came across as merely an excuse to paint an artistic canvas and create lush and the kind of opulent movie sets a cinematographer would love to create to win the the chance for an Oscar. But apart from the way the film looks- which by itself is unbelievable since it looks straight out of an ancient tale- there's very little else the film offers. You don't root for Euthanasia, you don't vote against it, you don't know why we should argue for it or against it.

The movie's central character Ethan Mascarenhas (Hrithik Roshan)- an ex-magician- has been paraplegic for 14 long years after a magic act went horribly wrong. He is looked after by his nurse, Sofia D'Souza (Aishwarya Rai) who dresses herself in long gowns- the kind you'd probably see in period dramas of 1920s and 1930s Spanish / Portuguese movies- bright red lipstick and a rose in her hair , and also by a few housemaids.

Guzarish could have been much more, considering there are many levels of Euthanasia that could have been explored on account of its complexity. The fact that there are dozens of cases pending in courts in many nations around the world, including India, and where the authorities find themselves in dilemma- are we going against nature, is it right for someone to take his / her own life- is in itself proof of its complexity. Performances are average. Hrithik's performance may be one of his best, but he is clearly not one of our better actors. Rai was just okay too. But to see the topic being reduced to an almost caricature- such as the court scene played out at the palatial mansion where Mascarenhas lives and fought by melodramatic lawyers (over-acted prosecutor v/s  melodramatic and teary-eyed defense attorney)- is disheartening. The movie is average at best, but mostly drags on, especially towards the end and it's long-drawn climax. The good part was that I got to see the trailer of Aamir Khan's upcoming production (directed by wife Kiran), 'Dhobi Ghat', in the interval. Now that's a movie I am dying to watch.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spirituality in Surat

We Parsis often underestimate the efforts that our dastursjis (priests) take in their day to day work, offering prayers. Many of us believe that reciting prayers on a day to day basis- repeatedly almost the same prayers for years and years- becomes a very easy feat over a period of time and therefore no effort is required. All I would say to them is to please attend the Nirangdin ceremony. I had the privilege to attend a Nirangdin ceremony at the Surat Shenshai Atash-Behram last week. I am not an expert at this, so I won't go into details of what this ceremony is all about, but I can offer a simple explanation.

In Zoroastrianism, a bull's urine plays a very crucial role in important events such as weddings and navjotes (thread ceremony to induct young Zoroastrians into the effect; much like a Hindu's thread ceremony). But this is no ordinary bull; this is supposed to be a bull that does not have a single black hair on it. It's sacred and presently there are few such bulls in Indian, mainly in Mumbai and Gujarat. These bulls' urine has been tested in scientific laboratories to verify their bacteria-free status. We are supposed to consume small portion of this urine at key milestone events such as our navjotes and weddings. But not just any batch is meant for consumption; only the batch that is sanctified through the Nirangdin ceremony is worthy of being consumed. Hence, the Nirangdin ceremony is very important; it takes the Zoroastrian faith forward. The ceremony lasts for about 15 to 20 days, I am not quite sure, but the one that I attended, did start almost as many days before and culminated on the morning of 28 October in Surat.

The grand finale is an all-night affair. We were made to report to the at the Atash Behram at 15 minutes past midnight. Fire temples look serene and so peaceful after sunset. It's pitch dark inside with only the Holy Fire burning bright. It's pin drop silence; you can only hear the crackles of the fire burning. The Dusturji recites his prayers and fills the prayer hall with positive vibrations, while he goes about doing his routine. Electric lights are not allowed inside the sanctum as they say electricity interferes with the vibrations, though many Agiaries do allow electricity since most of them consist of only one hall and they are small, so no electricity at all would mean complete darkness. But since Atash-Behrams are large, there are areas, such as the holy sanctums, that do not allow electricity at all; separate areas do have electricity to help people pray and also fans to beat the heat. So after sunset, typically, it's impossible to refer to prayer books inside the holy sanctums of Atash Behrams. My favorite place to be after sunset is the Udvada Atash Behram where- to the best of my knowledge- absolutely no electricity is allowed, not even in the outside halls. However, dozens of diyas are lit and put inside hollow chandeliers, hoisted from the high ceilings, many feet above the ground. It's divine to be there after sunset, amidst all these diyas; to just sit there and focus on the Holy Fire is an experience that every Parsi on this earth should experience atleast once in his / her life. It doesn't matter if you do not know any prayers by heart; just sit in a corner and close your eyes, focus and keep praying whatever you know or just be silent and at peace.

But coming back to why I feel Dasturjis should be more appreciated, you must attend a Nirangdin ceremony atleast once. It's a humongous effort. Our two Dasturjis (one seemed senior and the other junior) started their marathon prayers at about 2 am on the night of 27-28 October. It was non-stop, till the prayers ended at about 8 am in the morning. They recited at a stretch, without taking a single break. Except for a minimal area, they did not move out. Every muscle in their body was put through the severest of test, not to forget their vocal chords if you're reciting something or anything at about six to seven hours at a stretch. Despite offering a noble service, many dasturs, especially those outside the ranks of head priests, live a very simple life and cannot afford many comforts. I know of a few dasturs at the temple I visit who are old and still wait at the bus stop to catch a bus home at about 11 am at that age, after waking up as early as 4 in the morning and reporting to the Agiary for early morning prayers.We were about 10 from our family and many of us dozed off in the waiting hall post 4 am- we just couldn't sustain ourselves- but those two Dasturjis- went about their business in as much professional sense as it could get. At 8 am, it was over and about five to seven bottles of bull's urine were sanctified through this ceremony, to take our religion forward, to bind two loving souls in matrimony and much happiness beyond and to also welcome a young Parsi / Irani kid into our lovely Zoroastrian faith.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Happy Birthday my blog. It turns THREE today. Exactly three years back, on 24 October 2007, I started my blog. This particular week of October is associated to me at some level with new beginnings. Blogging has been a phenomenal experience for expressing my own views. I started this blog because I love writing. Also, because I felt there is so much that needed to be said, to be expressed and shared. Ofcourse, not everyone likes to hear what I have to say and I have experienced this the hard way. But feedback is crucial and I have got plenty of those from a small motley loyal readers that I have, so am always grateful to them. Keep the feedback coming, guys!

In the past three years, I have seen blogging flourish in my country, India. Credible blogs can be found across areas and there are those who are really committed in updating the blog. I wish I could say the same for me, but ever since I switched jobs- ironically in this week of October a year back- it's been a bit tough to be regular at blogging. It's impossible to find time on weekdays, so I try to catch up on my blogging on weekends. The idea is to keep writing.

So here's a toast to my blog and looking forward to more blogging, some trashing, but definitely more sharing. :)

Monitoring a gentleman's sport

You may root for the players when you watch them duel on a tennis court, but there's a whole army of people working behind the curtains to ensure maximum pleasure for the fans as well ensuring the greater good of the game. Chair umpires and line umpires are only two groups of this vast army. Mint gets a lowdown on them, their life and times of the court and how to become one, if you're interested. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

MTNL Triband is very bad

Beware of MTNL Triband if you're scouting for a broadband internet connection in Mumbai. I have had their connection for the past about three years. My experience with MTNL is that as long as their connection works, it's amongst the best. It's fast. But if the connection goes bad or if your connection develops some problem, which is quite possible, then God save you.

The product-  MTNL Triband- is good, but their after-sales service is pathetic. MTNL Triband's broadband call centre (1504) is the single worst call centre I have come across. 90% of the time, it's busy (aap kataar mein hain). So many times I have called up this number and when someone picks up at their end, the line goes dead, as in complete silence and no reply from the other end. It takes hours and hours to finally get through. By that time, more often than not, we give up and move on. The image of a 24-hour call centre is a big mirage at MTNL. It's a shame that a government organisation should work so callously; an organisation where customers are treated shabbily. Pity!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Endhiran Mubarak

Aamir Khan has admirers. Salman Khan has fans. Amitabh Bacchan has followers. But RAJNI has devotees. This is what I saw, experienced and felt after watching South superstar Rajnikant's latest blockbuster release, Endhiran (tamil version) at probably the last remaining bastion of Southern cimena, Arora Talkies at Matunga, central Mumbai. Part of my office Mallu / Tamil group of about 10 people, I was amongst the three who did not know Tamil. But was that important? Is that a hindrance? Naaah!!! A resounding NO. As it turned out, it was the the most thrilling movie watching experience of my lifetime. It dwarfed what I felt when I first saw Jurassic Park at Sterling or Inception or even Twister (I wasn't much impressed by Independence Day; was amongst the minority who liked Twister more than Independence Day)  

Arora Talkies wore a festive look. There were posters and banners put up by various Rajni fan clubs. An almost 40-feet tall gigantic effigy of his character from the movie (Rajni shades and shiny suit) stood tall and mighty at the entrance. Paper garlands with his mugshots were hung all over the cinema's compound as if somebody's wedding is going on. People were taking pictures themselves, their friends, group pictures, in front of Rajni effigy. When a TV crew arrived and started anticipating people's anticipation, the crowd went ballistic; the excitement was palpable. 

The movie started at about 6.30 and as soon as the credits rolled, people were screaming everywhere inside the theatre. Ravi- my very own master translator who is fluent in Malayalee and Tamil- was helping me understand key dialogues. But his otherwise haughty laughter and voice that can cut through a St Gobain glass was muzzled by shrill, screams and yelling going around all over us. Our aviation reporter P.R.S. was literally on a high; a witty line from Rajni was enough to make him dance in the aisles. Even a seatbelt wouldn't have controlled him. It was as if Air Deccan bought over Cathay Pacific.  When the words 'Superstar Rajni' came on screen, people went crazy. It was mesmerizing. 

That the movie was in Tamil did not matter. It's not really that hard to understand a Rajni blockbuster. Language is hardly a barrier to enjoy a good, unadulterated fun that can liven up the atmosphere. It was electrifying. Every time Rajni came on screen and turned around facing us in a style, people got up, clapped and cheered their hero. Every time he walked in a song in his trademark style, the audience cheered. The climax saw some of the most imaginative visual effects that can even match the best of Hollywood. More than the visual effects, it was the movie making team's imagination that did the trick. 

It was the best movie experience of my life. I will take some days to recover.... 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tennis is spreading in Asia

It makes a lot of sense for tennis to be spreading its wings in Asia. We have the money, we have the fans and- aside from the CWG fiasco- the rest of Asia has some of the best facilities to offer. MINT's story on tennis in Asia

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Who is the greatest tennis player of all time?

Uptil a few years back, we all thought tennis star and former World No. 1 Roger Federer would very soon lay his claims on the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) title. He may be 29 and claim he's still not done yet, and Rafael Nadal comes along and threatens to outrun him in the GOAT race.

Read Mint's story on GOAT debate...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Celebrating Dabangg

At first, it might sound surprising that Dabangg is still running houseful and after a little less than two weeks since its premiere, it's still not easy to get tickets. But once you watch the movie, you'll know.

Dabangg mainly caters to the front benchers, and God knows there are plenty of those in India. But what really helps Dabangg is its simplicity. Chulbul Pandey (Salman Khan) is a cop in a small town in Uttar Pradesh. He's street smart, practical and devious in his own way, with shades of grey but also has a heart. There is a baddie who goes about his extortion and illegal business. As Chulbul goes about punishing small time criminals, before laying hands on the big baddie, he falls for a damsel, marries her, at the same time fighting fires in his own backyard.  

Dabangg entertains; there's no doubt about it. It's classic old school Bollywood at its best. It celebrates Bollywood. Not necessarily the kind I subscribe to, but atleast it's great time pass. The story is okay, the movie is no cinematic excellence. It's not something that we can showcase to the international audience. But then, who cares? The movie caters to the quintessential Bollywood fan and it doesn't disappoint. There's romance, action, dance. And then ofcourse, there's Salman Khan. Plenty of him; he's all over the movie. He's beating up the baddies, he's singing, dancing, mouthing dialogues like he's never mouthed them before and as if that is not enough- especially for Salman fans- his bare chest with (believe it or not) his shirt ripping apart and flying away as he flexes his muscles in the climax before delivering the final punch to the chief villain. Don't  ask me for logic; it's all happening.

And oh, speaking of action, they might at first seem a novelty in Bollywood in the way that they are intelligently crafted, choreographed and executed, seem to be influenced by southern flicks- Rajnikant types- and also very loosely lifted from the Sherlock Holmes (2009).

Dabangg is not for you if are looking for a great plot and want to tax your brains, trying to solve some mystery. It's a mass entertainer. The story is well told and is backed by a good script, but a weak story. As the front bencher would say; paisa vasool. Go watch it, once.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nadal - Djokovic in US Open Final

Another opportunity missed on a Nadal-Federer grand slam final. It seems decades ago since these two heavyweights met in a Grand Slam final. Their anticipated final this year was looked forward to for many reasons. They have never met in US Open before. Nadal has never won a US Open. To lay his claim on being the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), Nadal would need to win the US Open. And had be beaten Roger Federer here on Sunday, it would have meant that he had beaten Federer in the finals of all the four grand slam events. We'll have to wait another year for this to happen, if at all it is destined to happen.

But props to Novak Djokovic on beating Roger Federer in the semi-finals. He saved two match points in the final set to win a gutsy five-setter, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5.  On Sunday, he stands between Rafael Nadal and his  ninth major. After playing late on a Saturday and an exhausting five-setter, less than 24 hours before his Final, I wonder how much recouped will Djokovic be in front of Nadal who seems to get fresher and fresher after each match. It's hard to stop Nadal when he is so charged up. If not a tough contention, it'll be a pleasure nevertheless to watch Rafael Nadal capture his ninth Grand slam title and a career Grand Slam (winning all four grand slams in his career).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Three Cheers to Meter Jam

Meter Jam is back. The highly successful campaign to create awareness about the callousness of a section of taxi and auto drivers is back with a bigger edition on 12 October. If you've ever been refused a ride in autos or cabbies, if you've ever been spoken to rudely by them or if you've been a victim of meter tampering, 12 October is the day where you must avoid them. (Though I must add not all taxi drivers and auto drivers are dishonest)

The other point I want to make is the sheer lack of taxis outside railway stations. Years ago, there was a perfectly managed taxi queue outside Mumbai Central railway station. Atleast one policeman used man the queue and ensure that taxis don't refuse passengers. A couple of years or so back I alighted at Mumbai Central and went to the taxi stand, that has since changed its place. All drivers refused me and I had to ultimately walk all the way to the top of the Mumbai Central road-over bridge, with my luggage, maneuver the traffic the absence of any signal, wait for a cab before I could successfully hail one. Thank God, at CST station, this problem is not there; policemen are always there to ensure we get a cab. At Dadar station too, I can see a mess, especially people alighting at the Dadar terminus. And the less said about Bandra Terminus, the better. I have not had the opportunity to catch a cab at Kurla Terminus, but I wouldn't be surprised if the situation is the same.

How about a situation, where each and every taxis is mandated to serve a minimum number of trips at each of the railway terminus in a month. Firstly, enough policemen must be positioned; atleast one per taxi stand, to ensure that taxis don't refuse passengers. Make it mandatory for each taxi (not taxi-driver) to serve (pick up a passenger) at each of the six railway terminus (Churchgate, CST, Mumbai Central, Bandra, Kurla and Dadar) in Mumbai. Not just these terminuses, but all railway stations. The same goes for autos too, outside important stations such as Andheri, Borivali, Ghatkopar, Mulund, Thane, Kalyan and so on.

A device or mechanism should be arranged to record a taxi's attendance at all these terminus's. At the end of the month, data should be collated at the Regional Transport Offices to make a note of who's fulfilling the mandatory requirements and who isn't. Before picking up a passenger, a quick check on their meters and whether they are working properly. I do not know how easy or difficult it is to catch meter tampering, but taxis that regularly pick up passengers at train terminus and airport (especially the latter) have their meters tampered.

At the end of the month, an audit needs to be done on who served at railway stations and who didn't. Taxis that do not do their duty should be punished. Care should be taken that a single taxi should serve all these railway terminus's, within a definite time frame, say, four to six months. You can post a policeman at the post to man the taxis, but it's not possible for him to ensure taxis reach the station to pick up passengers.

If need arises, the government may incentivise taxis picking up passengers at the railway terminus. But it is absolutely necessary that when tourists enter Mumbai, there's a cab, preferably an honest one, waiting for them to pick them up.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fake, but entertainment

Am I glad that I don't follow cricket? Perhaps. Am I relieved that I did not get swayed by the histrionics of the Fake IPL Player at its height? Definitely. I don't know what to make out of it. Looking at the Fake smiling on TV, happy about relieving himself and coming out, answering questions of tons of his fans, who despite being massively misled into believing something that they thought was gospel, but was infact nothing more than someone's figment of imagination, as he basked in his glory on TV that showed him like a trophy, like an achievement of being the first TV channel for breaking the identity of the Fake and kept reiterating how many zillions of phone calls they've been getting ever since they broke the story, I don't know whether to be happy or sad.

Let's get one thing straight. The world has moved on. We've all come a long way. In the world of reality shows where contestants shed rivers of tears, even strip their dignity to get ahead, this one seems to be the mother of all reality shows. He made it look so easy; create a mass hysteria and capture the nation's imagination. You could say its a masterstroke. And it probably was. This sort of stuff puts Bollywood scriptwriters to shame. (Not Hollywood; they make Inception.) With no source on the cricket field, the Fake conjured up stories, filled with pseudo names, allegedly purely out of his own head and drove millions of cricket fans in a tizzy. The guy has to be mighty creative to do something like this. And while fans must be kicking themselves (c****** banaa diyaa sabko), you can't deny talent here. Or creativity, whichever way you look at it. If I am running an advertising agency, or even if I am a brand manager, I'd pay to get this guy on my payroll. As a fan, I'd kick myself. As a citizen of this country, I'd say yeh hain India meri jaan. As a journalist, I'd say more power to the pen, which yet again has proved, is mightier than the sword.

Every word that the Fake wrote on his blog seems to have triggered heated discussions and debates in offices, cafeterias (as one caller said) colleges, classrooms, coffee shops, not to mention, locker rooms. Conspiracy theories floated around and realms and realms of newspaper and air space was spent on deciphering what this Fake meant, where did he get the news from and all the repercussion. And all this for what? If everything was his figment of his imagination, many would call it a waste. Entertainment? Sure, why not? Dollops of it. I can think of some Hindi news channels who would look for fodder here, who would throw their bodies and souls to get him on their TV shows, do his psychoanalysis, his dog's psychoanalysis, decipher him inside out, what colour of clothes he wears, what time he goes to the toilet, and what not.

I am so glad that I am not a fan of cricket. I wouldn't dream of getting caught in this sort of hysteria. I am happier gallivanting between Flinders Park, Rolland Garros, SW19 and now, Flushing Meadows.

Mint's story on the US Open Tennis

Mint carried a preview of the US Open tennis championships

And the best reality TV show is...

Reality TV shows have crossed the line of bizarre and have become icons of mediocrity. These days the amount of crying that reality TV shows, especially those blasted singing and dancing competitions, dump on us is not funny. If there was an award of who cries the most- and God knowing the way our TV bosses work these days- there might just be one of those too in future- these participants could give a tough competition. 

But, all hope is not lost. Lost amidst a sea of mediocre reality shows is this jewel. My vote for the best reality show goes to Masterchef Australia. Don't get me wrong; singing and dancing is also a huge talent and some of the mighty talented kids, especially those on the show Chak Dhoom Dhoom, have shown that at such a young and tender age, they can give the best dancers a run for their money. But the mere proliferation of such shows across multiple TV channels have ruined the charm. 

Masterchef Australia has that much-needed charm. It's a cooking reality show that takes place in a studio and there are rounds with themes. Contestants from all walks of life enter the competition to become the Masterchef. I have't caught many episodes, but the few that I have, left me impressed. Last week, the contestants were grouped into two groups; Red and Blue. They were to cook for a  nine year old's birthday party, and her 40 guests consisting her little friends and their parents. Each team had to prepare a birthday cake, main course and dessert. Each team got to sit with the birthday girl for about 2 mins and ask her as many questions as possible in that time, to get to know her taste, likes, dislikes, preferences and so on. Then, it's showtime. 

Each party guest, kid and adult, gets one vote. The birthday girl gets an additional 10 votes for the best birthday cake. The team with most votes, wins. I thought the concept rocked. The whole idea of catering for a kid's birthday and wooing their votes in a competition of this stature is mind-blowing. Even on other weeks, they call celebrity chefs and contestants are made to prepare a dish out of this chef's cookbook. It's a little odd to see contestants looking weepy and about to cry over an uncooked chicken or some such thing at result time, but the idea of a cooking reality show, gets my vote for the best reality TV show on Indian television. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

Peepli Live

It's celebration time when we see a meaningful film being made in India that is devoid of the usual rubbish mushiness and pop corn romance that makes little sense and call for unnecessary flood of tears that seem to go nowhere. Or, say, when they pick up a realistic subject and attempt to allegedly make a story out of it. In an industry that turns West every time it falls short of original ideas, here's a movie that is both contemporary and as original as it gets. The trick in the Indian context, however, is to pick up what appears on the surface to be a typical tear-jerker, possibly a social issue (something that our TV serials amply do these days) and turn into a product that keeps the histrionics at a bare minimum, appeals to a wider audience and doesn't sound preachy. (I caught the morning 10.40 am show at Pune's Inox (one of my favourite theatres) and the hall  was about 20% occupied, mostly by young college kids. They were having a ball of a time, laughing merrily at  the various twists, turns and dialogues.) That, in a nutshell, is Peepli Live, a film made by debutant director Ms Anusha Rizvi, who was earlier a journalist.

The story tracks two farmer brothers Natha and Budhiya, in a fictitious village called Peepli, who lose their land to a bank when they cannot repay the bank's loan. Getting to know about how the government compensates the families of those farmers who commit suicides, the brothers decide that Natha would commit suicide so that the government pays his family (Natha's wife, three children and mother; Budhiya is single and lives with them) so that atleast the family can live. The media comes to know of this story and very soon there is a circus of frenzied media chasing the story scrambling upon each other to cover what appears to be the country's first Live farmer suicide (hence, the name Peepli Live) on camera and politicians trying to get a mileage out of this awkward situation. 

It's a serious subject, yet, not for one second does Peepli Live gets preachy. The film is not a documentary; it's a satire. It's a dark comedy about how the farmer brother duo aim to make a quick buck to ensure their family lives to die another day. The movie takes a satirical look at the the political class and the media. The opposition and the ruling State party falls head over heals to either take advantage of this situation or do a massive PR to save their faces. The media is only too happy to cover every aspect of the beleaguered farmer family, dissecting every little detail surrounding Natha, breaking news, and all of that; even answering nature's call becomes a big headache. It literally is a circus out there. It takes a journalist to show glimpses of how the media can chase a story, hook or by crook. 

The script is tight and the screenplay is fantastic. The performances are superb and it's a wonderful sight to see raw talented actors from little known theatre groups turn in such marvelous performances. Clearly, the best film of 2010 so far. 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Somdev Devvarman

Mint carried a story on Somdev Devvarman last week when he became the first Indian men's tennis player to enter the top 100 of men's single ranking, in over the decade. The last Indian to do that was Leander Paes.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tennis is all about the Present, less about the Future

Mint's story on tennis: With age restriction, advancement of technology and physical fitness taking centre stage, pretty young things are taking much longer time to breakthrough. The seniors are more dominating

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tomas Berdych Has Grown Up

Of the two men's semi-finals I watched during Wimbledon 2010, I enjoyed Tomas Berdych v/s Novak Djokovic. This match had it all. Don't let the score board of 6-3, 7-6 (11/9), 6-3 fool you into believing that this was a completely one-sided match. Djokovic fought till the end, but was no match to the finesse of Berdych. I always like to view matches where there is a lot of variety. Nadal v/s Murray was bit boring to watch on this count and it was quite simply a baseline slug fest where one would keep hitting shots, the other would just keep retrieving. But Berdych-Djokovic match had drama. It had fine shot-making too.

Tomas Berdych is a talented player. I remember watching him in the finals of the Mumbai Kingfisher Open a few years back (September 2006) where he narrowly lost to Russian Dimitry Tursunov in three close sets. Ever since while Berdych has moved up, slowly but gradually, Tursunov seems to have disappeared. Berdych is such a player that on a good day he could beat anyone. He came close to beating Roger Federer at the 2009 Australian Open but lost in five. At this year's Wimbledon, Federer wasn't so lucky. Having going through a career slump himself, it didn't help him that he ran into super-confident Berdych who I am sure- like many other men's tennis players- now think they can beat Roger Federer anytime and on any day.

Yesterday, Berdych was in full form. His serve and forehands were the two weapons responsible for getting him to the Finals. The court coverage was phenomenal and both players, especially Djokovic, scrambled all the court to retrieve. Berdych's height 6"5 makes him a formidable server; he served 11 aces in the match,as against Djokovic's nine. But Berdych's biggest fears rest in his mind. He was up 6 points to 2 in the tie break and he allowed Djokovic to fight back and save all those set points and another two before saving two himself, eventually winning the set when Djokovic gifted him a double fault of his own. Berdych covered the court well and hit shots with pin point accuracy. His lethal forehand also drove Djokovic far off wide the court, only to sweep in to the net to put the volley away.

This is the game that he needs to beat Nadal on Sunday. But Berdych would do well to remember that he's about to play one of the toughest competitors of tennis in Sunday's final. Unless he truly believes in the heart that he can beat Nadal, he would have lost the match before he even steps on to the court.

What's The Point?

What's the point of these commercials that show death defying stunts to sell a product and then carry a disclaimer at the end saying they're too dangerous and not to be imitated! If it's a bike, show me a features of it and what it can do and how it is different from several other bike models on the road. Don't show how the bike goes through a tornado and faces a tsunami. India does get to see tornadoes and tsunami hit us in 2004 for the first time in as a long as I can remember. Yes, India gets a lot of floods, even those that paralyze the entire cities. If that were to happen, God forbid, will this bike just zoom through it all while the entire city, trains, cars, buses gets stranded and come to a standstill? Your guess is as good as mine.

P.S. I remember a camera advertisement that was on air a few months ago where the couple does some stunts to get that perfect picture. I tried to youtube it but could't find it. The girl is the pillion rider, she takes the camera in her hand I think, then gets up and circumvents round his boyfriend who is riding the bike, and then leans over in front of him on the bike's tank, then gets a shot of him. Phew!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Corporal Punishment Should Be A Crime

Whenever I hear about a student being either driven to suicide or takes of public humiliation at the hands of the school teachers, I cringe. The recent incident (here and here) of a Calcutta-based student, Rouvanjit Rawla who committed suicide because he was caned, beaten, tormented and humiliated in front of his students only goes to show that the Indian education system has still a lot of catching up to do.

The response of the school is most pathetic:

"As a school, we deeply regret the loss of young life. Attempts being made to hold the school entirely responsible are certainly misplaced. There are times when children need to be corrected and helped. The idea has always been to inculcate a sense of values amongst them. It is also important for the school to ensure that there is an environment conducive to learning and often corrective measures have to be taken to ensure this environment is not vitiated in the interest of the larger student community of the school," read the statement, signed by governing board secretary Supriyo Dhar. 

Values and discipline, bull shit. Little children don't commit suicide for fun. Rawla must have faced utter humiliation from his teachers to be driven to such a drastic step like suicide. When young children are humiliated in front of their classmates, consistently beaten up for flimsy reasons while their teachers go about proclaiming their barbaric actions as acts of discipline, it scars their minds for a long time.

And, more often than not, this culture of corporal punishment comes from the top, either perpetrated or encouraged- subtly or otherwise. The fact that the the school principal of Le Martiniere School himself allegedly caned students shows the kind of culture that was prevalent in this school.

I am not surprised that despite the state government of Bengal banning corporal punishment nearly three years, this practice has been going on at the school. Corporal punishment is a common occurrence. I have myself faced this when I was in school. Even my 1st standard teacher used to beat her students; she was anyways huge, looked intimidating and scary. And it doesn't really make much of a difference in the Indian schemes of things whether or not there is a government rule banning such practices because there's no way to monitor. No wait, there is a way, but no will to monitor. Some teachers aren't sensitized and students too think that being beaten and humiliated is acceptable and normal. Many times our parents too think at some bizarre level that corporal punishment is instills discipline.

According to the above Indian Express report, caning and calling student names at La Martiniere were a common occurrence. It's unfortunate that it takes a student's life to wake us up to the horrors of corporal punishment, something which has been going on for years and complaints of several children, not just of La Martiniere but of schools all over India, fell on deaf years. Until, we lost Rouvanjit Rawla.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Relaxing in Manali

 Our first day of the Manali-Shimla trip was a disaster, thanks largely to Kingfisher Airlines (KF) botching up our schedules. Our flight was cancelled and we weren't informed on time. We were put on a newly pressed KF Red flight that was to have departed two hours behind our original schedule, which got further delayed by another hour. So we reached Chandigarh at about 4 pm and started for Manali at 5 pm. After 11 agonising hours navigating one of the worst-kept roads I have ever seen and constant throwing up, I reached Manali next morning at 4 am.

We didn't do anything much on day#2 except sleep and take rest. Manali is a beautiful place to go if you haven't seen it already. We've pretty much lost the main town to rampant construction and civilisation, but the outskirts of Manali and the surrounding scenery is beautiful. Large and never-ending mountain ranges, mountains so tall they seem to reach the sky, lush green deodhar trees like forests dotting the hills and mountainous landscape with snow-covered peaks is what you'll get to amply in Manali. If you haven't seen snow, Manali is one of the best places to see it. Many homes in Manali, in general, are not well-built, they seem like a bunch of boxes, though they aren't as eyesore as those that you get to see in Shimla. I remember when I had gone to Darjeeling in 2004, homes lined up on roads were so pretty. Even though they housed extremely modest families, they would still know how to beautify their houses. Practically every house in Darjeeling and surrounding areas, including many in Kalimpong and Gangtok, would be dotted with flower pots with flowers of all sorts of colours. Their entire parapets would have flower pots and their love to maintain their houses would be seen in abundance.

Rohtang Pass is one of the biggest attraction in Manali; about 50 kms from the main town. It's a serpentine road full of hair pin bends and a long road to climb up tall mountains to go to this narrow pass that takes you all the way to Laddakh. I did not find anything special in Rohtang Pass since I've gone to Nathula pass and Tsongma lake in Gangtok, 16,000 ft above sea level. Still, if you wish to see plenty of snow, Rohtang pass would appeal to you. The best way to enjoy Rohtang is to leave as early as 5 am from Manali and reach Rohtang as early as possible. If you start late, you'll encounter a lot of traffic. Hence, leave early in the morning. Also, either take your car all the way to the top from where you can get to see a clear view of the Rohtang-Laddakh road (Laddakh side of the mountain) or stop at a place where we stopped, a km before the Rohtang top, and then go all the way to the top on snow on the back of the mountain yak. Since it's very cold and breezy, you need to wear a special gear; a snow suit, gloves and snow boots. They are available on rent at the many shops that are lined up on the Manali-Rohtang road. Be prepared to be fleeced here though; our shop charged Rs600 for a pair. Besides, our suits were very dirty, so try and haggle for a cleaner suit and a better price. I doubt if they allow for bargaining though.

Naggar valley and the home of the great Russian artist, Nikolai Roerich (yesteryear's Bollywood actress Devika Rani's father-in-law) are another interesting places to visit. I was fascinated with the road that connects Manali town and Naggar. Take a few pictures of the Naggar valley and savour the tree-lined road.  I also visited the Hadimba temple and had a sumptuous lunch at the Johnson's Cafe. You must have food at the Johnson's Cafe, one of the best places to eat in Manali. Have the Trout fish; it's specialty. I also had the lasagna which was very tasty. Prices are reasonable and it's a garden restaurant, so the setting is perfect. It's very close to the main market, so it's very convenient to reach.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Common Man Is Everywhere

I watched the 100th show of the 'R.K. Laxman's The Common Man', a one-man play based on the life and times of The Common Man; quite literally the mascot and the representative of India's middle class man. Ajit Kelkar plays the part of the common man. Through audio-visual slides that show select Laxman's cartoons of the Common Man, Kelkar chronicles the journey of Laxman right from the time he started and gave birth to the common man all the way through various socio-political changes the common man has seen.

His daily cartoons on one tiny corner on the front page were as looked after- or probably more- than the stories.  He is India's best known and widely respected cartoonist and has aptly chronicled- apart from Behram Contractor (Busybee; The Afternoon's founding editor)- the life and times of the Indian mass through changing times, political and economical, in India as seen through the eyes of the common man; his chief protagonist who is present in many moments that define India. It's political satire at its best; perhaps matching or even better than Yes, Minister; the classic British comedy. Laxman spoke through his cartoons that appeared on the front page of the TOI for years and years and Busybee wrote his legendary column 'Round and About'.

Coming back to the play, it was a good play. The performance was great and the message was as simple as Laxman's depiction of the Common Man. The idea to tickle our funny bone and it is also to provoke the society to not be mute spectators but to stand up and be heard. I loved the concept of the play, but I got this weird feeling towards the end that all the political bashing and lessons and preachings on the way India's bureaucracy works, is nothing new. Been there, done that. As glad as I was to have watched an original concept, I came out of the theater on a Saturday evening feeling like I have watched a rerun.

Nice Ad

Indigo Airlines' latest TV commercial hits the bulls eye with the one quality that best describes India's best low-cost- I wouldn't call it 'budget' as I feel the term is derogatory- airline. This commercial is one of the best on air at the moment.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Courts or Governments?

Haven't you wondered sometimes that what if our Courts- the High Courts and the Supreme Court- were to rule us, instead of the Governments? Sure, Government is government, after all, but perhaps when it comes to protecting our civic rights and ensuring that the basic quality of life is not compromised, the courts have time and again did what the government ought to have done long time back. The recent Bombay High Court order to the municipal corporation to notify Shivaji Park as a 'silent' zone must have come as a welcome step to hundreds of residents of this area. Sure, a government without corruption is not much possible anywhere across the world. Even the US governments have had a fair number of critics; what the Bush administration did with Iraq can be unpardonable. But one thing you've got to admire about developed nations is that when it comes to civic issues, like infrastructure, better roads, noise pollution, your right to live and such matters, the governments ensure your voice is heard and your needs are taken care of. Somehow the corruption doesn't much impact your daily life. My uncle in US tells me that when a housing society has to come up there, the civic authorities do not give the permission to the real-estate developer unless s/he can ensure basic facilities like a seamless power and water supply. Here, we buy homes and do not get water supply for 20 years; let's not even get into frequent power (electricity) cuts. Sadly, Indian governments seem to pay more attention to the aura of 8% growth rate and forget the basic quality of life.

Over the years, Shivaji Park has been violated by various political parties who hold several rallies throughout the year and ruin the place. Putting up pandals, stages and gathering thousands of people to watch them have created unnecessary nuisance to the residents of this beautiful area, lest of all damage the ground that should have been otherwise used to play by Mumbai's youth to play cricket matches.

Shivaji Park is one of Mumbai's most beautiful places to be. If you just take a walk along the periphery of his historical park, you'll find bliss. Old people- mostly Maharashtrians- and couple (again, young and old) sit on the parapets and chat and make merry.  Young children play with one another, people take their regular walks and even an occasional photography class goes on in the evening, as the sun can be seen in the distance setting, throwing its last rays of the days on the surrounding age-old buildings, some art-deco, others just old but yet nostalgic enough to remind of the old Bombay and also the beautiful Siddhivinayak Ganesh Temple, one of Mumbai's most revered and respected places of worship, which is some distance away from Shivaji Park but whose top can easily be seen from the park. You have to sit here in the evening or just take a walk and take in the magnificent energy that can be felt all over the place in the evenings, to know what I am saying.

Thank you, the Bombay High Court :)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Motormen Strike Down

Thank God that the motormen (train drivers) strike in Mumbai is finally over. It's been a harrowing 24 hours for many Mumbaikars. Yesterday, 3 May, I left my office in Dadar for home at about 7.15 pm. Station is a stone's throw and I got a train (Churchgate-bound) in about 2-3 minutes. Unfortunately, the train chugged its way to the next station, Elphinston Road and just stopped. I waited for another 15 minutes before I lost patience and got off. Other people were also losing patience and we were all getting quite restless. It's just a horrible feeling to get stuck inside a stationary train, I can't quite explain it. I decided to walk to the main LBS road, near IndiaBulls Centre One complex if I can catch a taxi. Buses too, though there isn't a single bus from there that comes to where I live. 

I tried hailing a cab, but taxis were not stopping. That's a surprise. Whenever some public transport such as trains or BEST buses goes on a strike, taxis usually make a killing. Most of them refuse to ply by meter and fleece passengers by charging way above normal rates. I saw one taxi doing that yesterday, but many taxis were running empty and just refused to run. I guess most of them must have got intimated by the heavy traffic. There was a sea of people on the street and it was completely chaotic. Whenever any taxi stopped, hordes of people flocked towards it, like a bunch of homeless people in flood-hit areas gushing towards food packets being air-dropped. The taxi driver would listen to each of them- where each person would like to- do a quick mental calculation, faster than the speed of light (or is it sound?), then bless one of us with the sacred place in his esteemed chariot. Mostly, it's a khatara taxi, but atleast yesterday it seemed like a luxurious chariot to those fortunate few who could successfully hail one. 

Anyways, I could not hail one. Atleast from that area. So I decided to walk. And before I knew it, I was walking on the road that connects Elphinston and Worli. After about half an hour of walking, I came to Worli, Doordarshan tower. There weren't any empty taxis going past by, so I decided to wait at the bus stop. Thank God a bus came after sometime and i hopped in. The bus was not the one that would go to my home, but atleast it would drop me in my neighboring locality. Some 2 hrs, 15 mins after I started from office, I came home. On a normal day, it takes me 45 minutes. 

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Postcards from Panchgani

I just came back from a much-needed break in Panchgani. This is one of my favourite places on earth. I go here and forget all my worries. Poona comes close, but the weather in Panchgani and the pure air is unmatched. The twin hill stations of Panchgani and Mahableshwar are one of the most important and popular hill gateways in Maharashtra. I have been going there for the past about 18 years and I can never get tired of it. Unfortunately, there is so much of construction happening that it's not funny. Panchgani was definitely much more beautiful in its ancient days that present times. But atleast it creates employment opportunities for the locals, so there's some comfort. Plus, the thriving jam factories of Mapro and Mala in these twin hill stations, bodes well for the localites.

Summers have become very hot here now, though. Till you are in the foothills of Panchgani- in a small called Wai- the heat is unbearable. It's as bad- or maybe even worse- than Mumbai. Only when you start climbing the ghats of Panchgani- the last of a total of four ghats on the way from Mumbai to Panchgani (Khandala, Poona, Khambatki and Wai ghats)- do you feel relief. But then, there are power cuts. On an average, we faced power cuts of about three to five hours daily. This is a shame. These are the most popular tourist destinations in Maharashtra, yet in this day and age, we face such stringent power cuts. Hotels have generators and inverters; they take pains to keep their guests happy and so the guests are taken care of. But what about the locals. Not everyone can afford generators or inverters. The entire central market place gets plunged into darkness after sunset sometimes, even during peak tourist season. Add to that an acute water shortage and you feel sorry for the locals who are left at the mercy of the crumbled infrastructure.

Still, all woes are forgotten because the place itself is so beautiful, that you somehow don't seem to mind all this. It's a charming little hill station and a must for those who love walking, cycling or even just relaxing. If you sit on the verandah and watch the scenery, mountains or valley, hours will pass by and you won't know. Panchgani and Mahableshwar are two places that I will continue to visit for years and years to come.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Public Relations Machinery

As a journalist, I deal with public relations (PR) people day in and day out. When I started my career around 10 years back, I used to get calls from PRs around once a week. 10 years later, I find that not a single day goes without getting atleast one call.

The PR industry has arrived; it's alive and kicking. They have become sassy, street smart and more polish. Young boys and girls do look at PR as a career opportunity now. On the flipside, they have become very aggressive. Looking at the number of calls I get in a day, it looks to me as a flourishing industry, pay scales notwithstanding and I am not aware of. The reality is, we've got to deal with it.

PRs have become sophisticated. But at the heart of every PR even today is this hunger to get maximum publicity for his / her client. The way they push their agendas have gone for a serious makeover, though. Earlier, PRs used to ask us openly "so when are you going to publish all this?" One PR women had the gall to ask me if a discussion that had just got over with a fund official in her presence would make it to my erstwhile magazine's cover!

Today, they are more polished in the way they talk to you. I have seen more polished PR people than journalists. They are driven by ambition. They are not ashamed to pick up the phone and striking up a conversation with journos they've never spoken to or seen before, but they talk as if they've known you for decades.

They don't leave you. Not that we want them to leave us all the time or anything, but a little bit of privacy in some of our meetings could be warranted. Increasingly, I find PR people arranging interviews or one-on-one meetings, if you like. Nothing wrong with that, but I don't appreciate if they are present in the meeting room. The ambiance of an informal catching up with industry people just gets lost there. Some even write voraciously whatever is being discussed. I wonder what they write so furiously. I would like to see some of those notes.

Some PR are genuinely cooperative. Like this one PR who told me frankly to deal with this mutual fund house (MF; since I cover the MF industry) to speak directly to its corporate communication because, guess what, even the PR is not spared of the usual garb "He's in a meeting" or "He's travelling bullshit" excuses. Or a handful of PRs who do not mind giving us the mobile numbers of fund managers or whoever they want us to talk to and take comments. This is a rare breed. Most don't give and prefer us to go through them. I can understand their reason; sometimes this bodes well for us, other times it does't.

Do they help? Yes and no. Most of them know where each journalist works, what beat s/he tracks and how they function. Some smart ones get accustomed to, quickly, the way each journo works and knows what sort of answers s/he looks for, the modus operandi and so on and are quick to deliver, accordingly. But there are also those irritating ones who have no idea of which journo is working where and covering what beat. They pick up the phone, call us and ask us our office's landline number and other such stupid questions. I hate stupid questions.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Little Bit of Privacy

There's an unsettling irony in what she said. Yes, privacy is what she wanted. Everyone knows, though, that celebrity marriages in India or anywhere else in the world is fodder for the paparazzi, media, fans and the general public. Perhaps she knew. Or perhaps she underestimated. Yet, little must she have expected, that not only her marriage would be the talking point (or breaking news, whichever way you look at news these days) of various TV news channels, newspapers, but also politicians would comment on whether she may play for India or Pakistan after marriage and such thing. I can't believe, even I am talking about it too. Add to that, copies of the groom's alleged first marriage certificate to another Hyderabadi girl were flashed on television channels alleged marriage. Every little dirty secret is threatened to come out of the closet. Every little sordid detail of what happened right from the time the groom allegedly met the first girl to the place and venue of the impending marriage is being discussed and debated. Realms of print and TV news space is being devoted. Specials report, breaking news, front page stories. 

Even though India's biggest women's tennis export lost in the first round of 4 of 5 tennis tournaments she entered so far in 2010 did not create as much buzz (as it ought to have been had we been conscious of tennis as we are with cricket) as her impending marriage. That's the reality. It's unfortunate, but true. I don't remember the last time when a sportsmen's marriage or impending marriage created so much buzz. That too, for all the wrong reasons. I don't remember when Sachin Tendulkar got married, the hows, whys, whens, whats, venue, reception, catering, and so on. Maybe I was too young then, or maybe I did not pay much attention as cricket is not my favourite sport. I remember reading stories of Leander Paes's love life before and also of Mahesh Bhupathi's last year. Such is life. Such is media these days. And this is not breaking news. By now, we all know it. 

Little Miss Sunshine

Although I had watched Little Miss Sunshine more than a year back, I recently ripped apart the packing of its DVD that was lying in my DVD cabinet for months. There's no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon at home. Dysfunctional families have been immortalized in Hollywood, both on the big as well as the small screen in movies and series like Six Feet Under, Brothers & Sisters and so on. Perhaps also Home Alone?

In Little Miss Sunshine (LMS), you got a failed motivational speaker who motivates half empty classrooms but can do little to help his own flagging career. His family resents those little winner-loser speeches that he vomits on the dinner table and cringes when he is about to start to rattle them off. You got his dad, the coke-snorting potty mouth whose vocabulary starts and end with the four-letter word. The son is mute because he's taken a vow to remain silent till he is allowed by his parents to become an air-force pilot. The wife' brother is fresh out of the hospital after being jilted by his lover. While the wife struggles to hold this dysfunctional lot together and maintain some sanity, the family's youngest member, Olive-literally the heart that beats- is this wonderful flower (Abigail Breslin's finest performance that I can remember) who aspires to become a beauty queen starting by winning 'Little Miss Sunshine', a beauty contest in California. You put all of them in a VW mini-van and you get one of the most hilarious- yet touching- movies you'll ever see.

That's the thing about dysfunctional families. Atleast the Hollywood types. They bicker, they crib, they fight, they squabble. They talk nonsense, they argue, they shout, they yell. Yet, when it matters the most, they come together like a flock to face every challenge life throws at them. They seem divided on all matters under the sun, but faced with a life-altering adversity- or so it seems- they throw their differences out of the window and unite. They are different from one another like chalk and cheese, but when it matters the most, get so glued to one another, that you can't tell one from the other.

Moments like these are unforgettable in LMS. The grandpa has a potty mouth and can't see eye-to-eye with anyone. But when his son suffers his career's biggest setback, he just offers a pat on his son's back and says he did his best and he is proud of him. At the beauty pageant, when Olive gets underway with her hilarious dance sequence that shocks the judges and audience, her entire family stands up and joins her in the act. Even though her act is bizarre and causes many people to walk out, she can only see her goal in front of her because her family does everything possible to shield her. That's what dysfunctional families do. That is why they are called families. At that point in time, it ceases to matter whether they are functional or dysfunctional.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Taxis at premium at 5-star hotels

Mumbai Mirror newspaper reports that taxis in Mumbai fleece their passengers if they are called for, at few or more 5-star hotels.  The story shares experiences of passengers who called for taxis at these 5-star hotels and were told by the cabbies that they will charge a flat rate instead of what the usual meter shows up.

I have myself experienced this. A few months back I had gone to Grand Hyatt hotel at Kalina, Santa Cruz, Mumbai to attend an office conference. We asked the security guards at the entrance to hail a cab for us to go to, i think, Phoenix Mills, Lower Parel. I don't remember exactly whether we called for a black & yellow (B&Y) taxi or a cool cab, but it was definitely either of the two. The cab came promptly and we got inside, only to be reminded by the driver that he'll charge us a fixed rate. We deciphered that this 'fixed' rate is definitely higher than what we'd have to pay if we go by the meter. We refused to pay him the fixed rate and got off.

Mumbai Mirror has done a great job at exposing this racket. The transportation rules state that in Mumbai, taxis and rickshaws should charge as per what the meter shows and not some free-wheeling fixed or special rate the driver decides to charge depending on his whims and fancies. Just because we come out- or go to- 5-star hotels, doesn't give them the right to loot us.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What Does Your Name Mean?

My dearest friends Khushru and Tanaz Medhora of Philadelphia, US, just gave birth to their second child. However, unlike their first child (baby Kaizeen), this time- atleast to the best of my knowledge- they took pains to shortlist not just the names of children but also their meanings. Another dear friend of mine gave birth to her first child (a boy) last Friday. Today morning, she sent me an SMS (and also to a few others I presumed since it wasn't a very personalized SMS) asking for a vote to select one of the three baby names she and her husband had shortlisted. This is a first; couples shortlisting names and asking their near and dear ones to help them vote. Her SMS was short, crisp and systematically crafted. Three baby names with their meanings. So that our job becomes easier.

I think this is a new trend. Young couple (today's generation) are seeking to find out the meaning of names they want to assign their babies. My cousin Erich & his wife Havovi in US did it a few years back, Khushru & Tanaz did it a month back and now this friend of mine. It's good that parents are concerned about finding out the meaning of baby names before assigning them. I don't think my parents did not do that, though they did gave me a unique spelling. But I love my name. I also think it's important that we know the meaning of our names. It's always a curious thing to ask the meaning of someone's name when you hear an unusual name. Especially if you happen to be a Parsi like I am. Parsi names can be complicated and sound very royal. Atleast many of them do. That is because most of them are Persian names and take us back centuries to ancient Iran where our civilization comes from and the origin of our names.

But coming back to the importance of name meanings, I've had my fair share of embarrassing moments. When I was appearing for my MBA entrance exams and interviews, I was often asked the meaning of my name. The first few times I drew a blank; I used to say I did not know. The interviewer used to nod his head in a bit of a surprise- somewhat like "Oh what an interesting name, let me ask him, oh he doesn't know, oh oh what a shame, pity" kind of- moment. I thought I had to do something about it. I asked around but nobody seemed to know. Then, I called up Khojeste Mistry. He is- as many Parsis would know- a religious scholar. Well, that is a disputed description especially if you read one newspaper, but do I really care? I still remember that time when i called him, introduced myself and popped the question. In his usual dignified way and English accent he said 'Born with Kingly Glory'.

I was shocked. Me and Kingly glory? But I was already on seventh heaven. Then again, why not! Not wanting to let go of my moment of glory yet, I pretended as if I did not hear his answer and requested him to repeat again. He obliged. Ah! Such was life, I thought. Khojeste was kind enough to guide Khushru & Tanaz too, this time around. But whenever someone asks me and I tell him/her my name's meaning, many times I get this look that says "oh yeah? well, ****-you". Well, as far as I am concerned, **** them! If I am born with Kingly glory, I am born with Kingly glory! Period.

But having known the meaning of one's own name is an advantage- even if small. It always leaves a good impression on others. Especially in interviews. So go ahead. Find out the meaning of your name. Like those ladies in a typical what's-the-meaning-of-your-name commercial (if there was any) would say: "I found my name's meaning. And you?" get the drift

Monday, March 1, 2010

Doctor, Pilot and the Engineer

Creativity is one of Indian advertisement agencies' strong points but also leads to a lot of duplication at times. Take, for instance, our insurance policy commercials. Especially those that are aimed at kids. Almost everyone wants to be a doctor, engineer or a pilot. Nobody wants to become a sportsmen. Those few of our kids who want to become a sportsman, it's only cricket (main bada hoke sachin tendulkar banuga) and not any other sport. Ofcourse, it'll  be hilarious if, say, insurance kids suddenly say they want to be kho-kho players when they grow up so buy Min London Child Policy. But seriously, what is wrong with someone aiming to be a good kho-kho player? What about tennis? And why the hell no kid wants to grow up to become a journalist?

I am most surprised that insurance companies selling 'dreams' to kids do not think that journalism is a profession worth aspiring for. Even though you don't rake in the moolah the kind you do being a pilot or a doctor, but that doesn't make it any less credible. There are good and responsible publication houses around that respect not only their own people but also their readers and strive to give the latest and most up-to-date news and analysis from India and around the world, the first thing in the morning after (or even hours before) we wake up. What's wrong in dreaming about a career in this profession?

My dear insurance companies, wake up and smell the many other credible professions around. Your doctor, pilot and engineer would be ignorant fools with an General Knowledge quotient of zero if it weren't for all those newspapers and magazines they get to read the first thing in the morning. With all due respect, let us start teaching our kids that the world is not just made of doctors, pilots and engineers.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Symphony at Kala Ghoda festival

Never attended the Kala Ghoda festival before, so today was my first time. I attended a recital of the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) at Horniman Circle, on the foot of the Asiatic Library. The stage was on the Ballard Pier - Regal Cinema road and we were supposed to sit on the steps of the Asiatic Library. Traffic was diverted, obviously. The performance was supposed to start at 6.30 pm but started about 10 odd minutes later.

It started on a high note with the orchestric rendition of our national anthem. I say, the Indian national anthem is probably one of the best in the world. The tune is marvelous and it's a completely different experience when you hear it in western classical music. I noticed quite a few Indians in the orchestra which was a delight because we'd certainly like see a lot more Zubin Mehtas out there. It was supposed an hour's extravaganza but it got over in just under half an hour. They played the Palladio; a popular item on the western classical charts and also part of the De-beers commercials. Vande Mataram and Saare Jahaan se Acha were the other Indian recitations played by the orchestra. Before Vande Mataram started, the conductor said it would need no introduction and then the group started. It took me some while to recognise it. I guess the beauty of it all is not to just do new things; it's also how well you could reinvent something that's so old and already a classic and make it look like something so new that you've just invented. 

But one of the highlights of the performance was this typewriter sequence. In an attempt to thank Mumbai, its people and the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival for letting it perform at the festival, the orchestra delivered a masterful performance with a guy sitting right under the nose of the conductor, writing out a thank-you note on  a typewriter; the typewriter sounds (the keys, hitting the space bar, the sound of the carriage moving forward, the bell at the line of a line, carriage return, and all of that) blending in with the orchestra. At the end, the piece was over and so was letter "complete, with no spelling mistakes, ready to be handed over to the organizers", said the conductor. Very unique, you have to see this to believe it. 

Overall, 30 minutes for an orchestra evening is not enough, especially if they do an encore, twice. But it was a good glimpse of what SOI is made of. An evening well-spent. 

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Do You Have A Dark Spot?

Quick question: If you are going for a job interview, what is more important? Flawless complexion or talent? When I was a kid, my TV told me it is the latter. Hence, the many commercials of Complan (I'm a Complan boy / I am a Complan girl), Boost (the secret of Kapil Dev's energy), Bournvita and even Dabur's Chavanrash. I watch TV these days and I get the impression that it is the perhaps not talent, but our looks that really matter the most. Nutrition commercials can still be seen, but they get dwarfed and lost amidst countless of those that are hell bent in removing every little dark spot, dullness, grey hair, white hair, split ends or whatever little thing you have on you, to ensure you are set for a good life ahead. This is today's irony.

The reality of Indian television is not just the garish TV serials. It's also the beauty / fairness / hair commercials. 10 signs of ageing, 100 signs of hair loss, 1,000 ways to beautify yourself, fairness creams, for not just women, but also men, woman lunging for creams to get ahead in the rat race, dark spots, dullness, split ends, dark circles, and that age-old classic girl-mocked-at-in-an-interview-because-she-is-dark selling line. Housewives lounging on their sofas in their living rooms telling tales to us- with as much interest as doting mothers do when they tell fairy tales to their children- about how they did not know that they were growing old and how one wrinkle here and one dark spot there actually means they are ageing. And how they suddenly felt so blessed and uplifted now that they knew! Orgasm gets a whole new meaning. I never knew what a dark spot meant till I saw these advertisements. I think I can learn more about my skin and hair on TV than any dermatologist expert can tell me.

As if the housewife tales are not enough, we are led into a swanky laboratory whose doors automatically open, robotic types people- seemingly those who do not have even one single dark spot on their pretty faces, like almost genetically manufactured- show us their diligent and painstaking process to make products that they make it sound are so good that all those who are shunned by the society because of colour, will now soon be openly accepted. They remind me of my chemistry laboratory of my school. "Keep the bell jar tightly shut or quit the lab", said Mrs Raghavan, my chemistry teacher, sternly.

I remember years back when I was a kid, my maid servant used to apply 'Fair&Lovely' almost everyday. And she was not even dark skinned, I thought she was fair.

All said and done, I must admit one thing though. I had a lot of dandruff in my hair. I tried many shampoos but it just did not go away. Then, I tried Garnier Fructis. And would you believe, my dandruff is gone. I have zero dandruff now. Ah, well. Such is it. What can I say!

Meher Mahino, Ava Mahino and Adar Mahino: The holy trinity of Zoroastrian calender

Zoroastrians- or better knows as Parsis and Iranis of India- have a separate calendar. We look at the English calendar of course, but we al...