Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Upbringing, tastes and prejudices

I posted this write-up on PFC couple of days back. Here's the extract of the text. The original post (and some interesting comments) can be viewed here:

VK is cornered at K’s. He wages a lone battle against the alliance of K, M & V.
K: Dude, how can you call yourself a movie buff and even aspire to be a director when you haven’t seen a classic like this?
VK: Don’t know… somehow haven’t tried watching it so far. And I don’t like Shahrukh.
K: How can you say that when you haven’t even watched the film yet. How many movies of his have you seen anyway?
VK: Hmm… Hey Ram, Swades and Chak De. That’s about it I think.
K: My god! You don’t even have the right to comment on him then!
VK: I don’t know, but his acting doesn’t work for me.
K: You ought to watch this. I bet you’ll eat your words!
VK: Is this the one that has Madhuri and Karishma dancing in skin-tight costumes?
V: Grr! That’s Dil to pagal hai. You haven’t seen that also eh?
VK: Oh… is this the other one then… with Karishma Kapoor and Kajol?
M: Wrong again. That’s Kuch kuch hota hai… and its Rani and Kajol.
VK: Ah! Total confusion! Well, which is the one that you want me to watch now?
K: DDLJ… Dilwale dulhania le jayenge.

The pressure is stepped up, VK yields, helplessly, unwillingly. K determinately locates the folder on his computer in no time. The movie begins to play. VK, however, hasn’t moved and can see the monitor yet. He silently continues maneuvering Snake Xenzia towards her prey on his 1100.
A sudden sound, of what seemed like a cross between a goat’s bleat and a chicken’s cluck, distracts VK. The sound repeats, frequenting either the beginning or end of each dialog spoken. Giving the movie the benefit of doubt, he enquires, “you playing some mimicry act dude?” K notices VK immersed in his mobile phone and retorts, “the movie is already playing”.

VK puts aside his phone and does a quick prejudice-cleansing in his head and moves to face the monitor. A few seconds pass and he feels his neck muscles flexing away from the screen. ‘Patience VK, patience’ he tells himself and strains back his head to look in the direction of the screen. Comments pop up now and then. M says Kajol looks hot; K says the pair is magical, V says Karan Johar looks gay as always. Shahrukh suddenly breaks into a king-kong exercise on a majestic looking piano. It’s time for a song which implies that’s it’s quiz time in the room.
“Mr. Ilayaraja, which song is this?” K fires at VK. VK forgives him and lets the context-less, irreverent reference to his god pass momentarily. He sincerely attempts humming along with the chorus to see if it could lead him into the song.
“Najaane mere dil ko kya ho gaya?”. Negative.
“Jaado theri nazar?”. Nonsense.
The prelude nears its ending. VK still hunts for patterns. “Disgrace to India if you don’t know this song, such a big hit this one is” declares V.
VK concedes defeat as Udit Narayan begins ‘Rukh jaa oh dil deewane’.

K’s mom calls for him; nature calls M and V turns to the iron table. VK smells blood. He slowly advances to the computer, silently shuts down the movie player and gets back to Xenzia.
“What happened to the movie?” K enquires on returning.
“I don’t know, I was ironing” says V. All the three turn towards VK.
“Yup. I turned it off, I had enough” exclaims VK, the relief showing on his face.
“Thoo! Useless fellow! I would’ve seen the movie at least 40 times!” says K emphatically.
“Hmmm… this movie ran for one or two years I suppose?” asks VK.
“It’s the biggest ever hit. It has run for 750 weeks and still runs housfull in a theatre in Mumbai” he is told.
“Hmmm ok, so be it” VK dismisses.
“Play the movie to any girl and she’ll fall in love with it. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll do whatever you ask me to!” K challenges VK.
“Doesn’t affect me.”
“It’s the most entertaining of all movies I’ve seen in my life. Pure entertainment. Any normal Indian family guy would love this” says K throwing another challenge.
“Well, if its entertainment, its Michael Madhana Kamarajan for me. Now that’s something I’ve seen umpteen times!” counters VK.
“Yuck! I thought that movie made a complete mockery of everything” complains K.

The conversation, for some reasons, ended thus, quite abruptly. As you might have guessed by now, K is K and VK is me. K’s last statement left me thinking about how varied and contradictory people’s taste can be. What is it that makes DDLJ and MMKR as top favorites for K and me respectively? And more interestingly, how is it that, each regards it an intolerable fare, what the other considers a classic?

Nostalgia could be one of the reasons connecting us with these films for they released, roughly, in the same time period; MMKR in 1990 and DDLJ in 1995. These were the childhood/schoolboy days for both of us. Let me try and trace my liking for MMKR from then till now.

Kamalhassan, in spite of having publicly shunned his religious/brahminical background, found a soft corner with my family members because of his roots, apart from his fair looks and acting skills. MMKR, that featured him in four different roles, also had a significant chunk of brahminical references, dialogs and sentiments. Quite naturally, this resonated nicely and was well lapped up in the Thamizh Brahmin household that I grew up in. This meant that the movie found a place in the ‘good books’. Ours was a house without a VCR/VCD. Movies, whatever and whenever seen, were in cinema halls, that too purely for entertainment purposes. A movie was either good or bad, no analytical discussions or postmortem of any kind followed any viewing. Though I do not remember watching MMKR with my family, I do recall the song Sundari neeyum and the ‘Bheemboy’dialogs being popular among my folks; possibly the foundation of my taste for the movie. Later in the early cable TV days, I remember watching ‘comedy scenes’ and songs from the movie, but my acquaintance with it remained along the same lines. I liked Sundari neeyum though I had no knowledge about its composer, singers or ragam. Bheemboy, some fights and car chase sequences appealed to the na├»ve schoolboy in me then. With the advent of my interest in music and more specifically, Ilayaraja, in my PU college days, the songs from the movie became increasingly favorites. The usage of Kedaram ragam in Sundari Neeyum, the bass lines, the violin solos in Sivarathiri, the trumpets and violins in Rumbumbum; each discovery or realization was a thrill. It was only last year that I purchased a DVD of the movie and only after viewing it then and thereafter did I fathom its brilliance. A whole new dimension of subtle humor unfolded in place of, what I hitherto perceived as simply, loud humor. Kamal’s nuanced, master-class performance in combination with Crazy Mohan’s inimitable, razor sharp witty writing makes the movie a thorough laugh riot. Now add in top notch performances (from every single character), great songs and background score, good screenplay and direction; and there we have it, a complete entertainer! Or should I say my recipe for one?

(Considering K’s lament about the movie, let us assume logic to be the biggest victim here, i.e. the movie makes complete mockery of logic. I will and can, in no way, deny this argument. I think it could be mildly possible, to view this movie as logically perfect, upon watching it, while performing Sirasaasana, after emptying a bottle of Old Monk Rum! We are talking about pure entertainment here, aren’t we? How much significance does logic play here? The movie is fun, at the cost of logic, surely, and if I may very reluctantly add, mindlessly funny; reluctant because, the seemingly mindless fun is because of some really brainy wit!)

Now, let us switch tracks and move on to DDLJ. Personally, for a movie to have a sound influence on me, it either has to be technically competent or connect at an emotional level, if not for both. Connecting with a movie emotionally or sentimentally is where, I feel, factors like background and upbringing come into reckoning. In common parlance, this can be explained as ‘relate to it’. Language of the movie, the actors starring in it, the story and its settings, are what I consider, some general pointers for a connection of this sort to be established. I grew up speaking Thamizh and English and my staple movie diet, though limited, consisted of Rajini and Kamal films along with some older ones of Sivaji Ganesan and K. Balachandar. Fortunately or unfortunately, Hindi movies were almost non-existent. Not that there was a bias against the language or sorts. My father and his brother were avid followers of Hindi movies and music; Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, RD Burman, Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar to list some of their favorites. They treasured their collection of audio tapes that ranged from originals to recordings, spanning across boundaries, from MSV to Bappi Lahari, Serghazhi Govidarajan to Mohammad Rafi and spread across genres, from Sivaji sad songs to Amitabh’s romantic duets. These tapes, even today, lay stacked in a cupboard in my house, like memories, like peaceful retired veterans. All ok, but what about the loss in connection with Hindi movies you may ask. Though I’m unable to pinpoint exactly when and why, there was a lapse, a certain one, somewhere in time. Movies and audio tapes took backseat and paved way for shlokas and devotional stuffs. Maybe, it was the end of the angry-young-man era in Hindi cinema. Or maybe my folks suddenly felt that school going children at home ought not to be distracted by cinema and songs. Thus, along the way, withered, buried and lost, was the connection with Hindi cinema for about a decade. Sharukh, Salman, Madhuri, Juhi, etc became ‘their actors’; national blockbusters became ‘their cinema’; popular Hindi songs became ‘their songs’. Whatever was theirs was theirs; it was of no consequence to us, for we had ‘ours’, our movies, our actors and our songs; smug and cozy with the known. Prejudiced. Biased.

Someday, maybe I will accept and appreciate ‘pure entertainment of the normal Indian man’. Till then, I will wait, shamelessly prejudiced, shamelessly biased.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


A pristine chord in music,
a part of me,
turns 68 today;
Dear lord, dear Raaja, happy birthday!

Isaiye... pirandhanaal vaazhthukkal!