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Remembering Geeta Dutt, missing daddy, enjoying the melancholy today

It’s her birth anniversary today. Geeta Dutt, whose voice influenced me deeply in my growing years, teaching me that its not the perfect tone and pitch but the soul that makes good music. I spent hours on end listening to the collection of Geeta Dutt songs we had on cassette. There was a small cassette player that I would use, not the larger music system that stood in my parents’ bedroom, where Hindustani classical music would play in the early hours of the morning and through the long evenings as well. The little cassette player was mostly left to my use and Geeta Dutt ruled the roost here. I remember the play-stop-rewind-play routine we used to pen down the lyrics of all her songs. Considering I had hardly any Hindi on me at the time (we lived in Bombay and I was fluent in English and Marathi only), I wonder what sense the words made to me, but I loved them nevertheless.

Geeta Dutt’s melancholy numbers appealed to me the most. I’m listening at this very moment to ‘Mera sundar sapna beet gaya‘, from Do Bhai, Music by SD Burman. The song is in Raag Bilawal and Annu Kapoor reminded me this morning, as I tuned into his radio show Suhaana Safar with Annu Kappor on my way to work, that the song was Geeta’s (she was then Geeta Roy) first solo break in 1947. Other favourites continue to be ‘Koi door se Aawaz de, Chale Aao..‘ from Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam (1962, Music by Hemant Kumar, Lyricist Shakeel Badayuni) and ‘Kaise koi jeeye‘(1964, Baadbaan, Music also by Hemant da) . The desolation and desperation that Geeta Dutt could bring into her voice left everything else far behind and took me, even then when I was not yet ten, into a very different world. A world where only emotion mattered.

Annu Kapoor signed off this morning’s show with the immortal ‘Vaqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam‘ (1959, Kaagaz ke phool, Music by SD Burman, Geeta Dutt was in her prime in Guru Dutt’s movies!). As Geeta Dutt’s voice came through over my car stereo, the tears began to flow. I remembered sitting on daddy’s lap as a child, my ears glued to his chest, hearing him sing along to the stereo. I would tilt my head to watch his face as he sang. His eyes shut, a smile on his lips, his face resplendent with peace and joy.

In his time, my daddy would have put modern day Bollywood fans to shame. When he was young, he used to watch the First Day First Show of as many Hindi film releases as he could. He could tell you not only the actor, producer and director for nerly every film released through the late ’50s and early ’70s, but also the music director, lyricist, playback singers, and many stories peppered with gossip about the affairs, the tiffs and the saucy politics of the Hindi film industry. But when the music played, he would not speak. He would be totally immersed.

In the last few weeks of his life, daddy would ask me to sit next to him and sing. And he would too, as much as he could. He told me the best thing he did was encourage me to learn music. He told me that my voice gave him the deepest possible pleasure.

He left us so many years ago, but the gaping hole he left behind will never be filled. No wonder the melancholy in Geeta Dutt’s filled me with a deep personal pain this morning. A pain I did not fully understand as a child, a pain that now fills me with despair but also tinges my moments with the sweetness of nostalgia.

‘Piku’: A review of reviews and some of my own thoughts

Adults in our family (Rahul, me and the mums) are generally in the habit of making trips to the cinema hall without our children. Frankly, except for animation films made for kids (and even they have so much dialogue that is lost on the little one, and so much violence), it’s hard to find films that we think children should watch. Piku, after a long time, was a weekend trip with the kids in tow (watch trailer). Aadyaa was highly excited about being allowed to watch a movie with us and highly intrigued with what little she had heard about Piku. “Is he really obsessed with his potty?” she kept asking me the entire Saturday morning after I’d broken the news of our little outing.

In the cinema hall, I saw families helping their elderly up the stairs into the multiplex and several children milling around. The sense of excitement (and star worship) was not quite the same as I see for the typical Khan-type Bollywood multi-starrer, but there was a curiosity in the air and a level of comfort that was palpable.


What I loved about Piku (in that order)

The stunning ordinariness of the characters: The experience was a bit like watching a movie with a very large extended family. Everyone identified with someone or the other. In Piku (ably played by Deepika Padukone), some saw their own struggles with aging parents reflected. In Bhaskor Banerjee (Amitabh par excellence), people identified an eccentric uncle, an endearing patriarch, a dearly missed grandfather. Piku dusts cobwebs, Rana (Irrfan) yells unbecomingly at his mother and sister, Piku’s house has a normal and reassuring level of unkemptness but is spruced up to entertain guests for lunch, etc etc.

Functional dysfunctionality and the wonderfulness of family: But more than that, the film needs to be applauded for bringing home the wonderful way Indian families (and perhaps families in general) accept and live with the eccentricities of their own. I wasn’t entirely convinced about Baradwaj Rangan’s description of Piku as “An irresistible amble with a dysfunctional family” because I cannot think of a single family that is “functional” really! Perhaps it is our identification with this functional dysfunctionality that endears the film to us so! To me, Piku’s biggest achievement is that families, from the youngest to the oldest, could watch together a wholesome, funny entertainer without the usual crassness that we have to swallow as necessary in run-of-the-mill Bollywood fare.

A new way for mainstream cinema to look at women: Piku’s team was evidently quite confident of the wholesomeness of their script, for writer Juhi Chaturvedi has boldly taken the opportunity to speak a very different language about how women can be in Indian society. As one of my favorite feminist bloggers puts it, Piku is among a new set of movies “that acknowledge women as people” (Read IHM’s review titled Piku in Patriarchy) and do not make women fit into the ideas that society has of them, rather letting them break out and be what they will.

Nivedita Mishra’s HT review points out that it’s easy for a priviliged upper class Delhi girl to be ‘independent’. Even so, I think Piku’s character and her manner of negotiating her relationships goes beyond privilege and speaks to her ability to remain headstrong and stubborn in a world that is still largely patriarchal, even for the privileged upper class woman.

Jugal Mody, in his excellent post on The Ladies Finger, also points this out, especially referring to the friends-with-benefits relationship that Piku has in the film and the strength of the film’s other female characters. Particularly, he picks out the film’s ability to highlight how feminist men like Bhaskor (Piku’s hypochondriac dad), though supportive of women in their lives, constantly feel the need to control them. The film, he writes, points out “the irony of men who want to be feminist allies to the women in their life. In the long family banter scenes, they keep interrupting the women who are talking about what they want only to tell them about independence.”

Within this theme, I come to what I loved particularly about Piku. In a setting when Piku is forced to travel with a man she doesn’t particularly like (Rana Chowdhry, played by Irrfan), a man who has an uncanny way of getting under her skin and really understanding her, one would expect a romance to kindle in the style of Mills & Boon (which is absolutely full of these strong silent characters who are drawn to each other after a series of misunderstandings). But no, the knight in shining armor (I was really wondering, when the Tullu pump was being repaired in the minutes before Rana leaves Kolkata!) does not gallop in on a white steed and carry away the Princess to ‘happily ever after’; instead, they exchange friendly knocks with badminton rackets in the closing scenes, which shows their growing friendship but nothing more.

What I didn’t quite get about Piku (in no particular order)

Everything about the film was subtle, so subtle that somewhere on their journey to Kolkata, I found my attention slipping. Aadyaa was restless besides me: “When will they reach Mumma? how many hours in real, how many hours in the movie?” The events on this journey seemed to me haphazard, but I’m sure that chaos was also part of the charm. I certainly have no suggestions for how this could be improved!

I thought the film could have highlighted a bit more Piku’s pleasure in re-connecting with the city of her childhood, Kolkata. It could have been an opportunity to show another side of Piku, the contrast to her severity and wilfulness might have rendered her even more lovable. Even her sudden change of heart about retaining (and not selling) their ancestral home came through, to me, as abrupt (close after her conversation with Rana about this, it came across as if he was overtly influencing her, which is at odds with Piku’s character). If this was an important part of the subtext, the connection with their home and their old life, it merited a bit more attention perhaps.

Kudos for telling new stories, and not rehashing the formula

I’m saying nothing new here and I admit I’m biased, having known Juhi for a long time. But truly, Piku is a brave story, a real story. Kudos to Juhi for writing it and to Shoojit for putting it together so beautifully.

Piku could be my story or yours; and it’s impossible not to love it. After Vicky Donor’s bold humorous take on a taboo subject, Juhi’s fresh take on the ordinary madness of life’s relationships in Piku deserves all our praise. I can imagine the catharsis she experienced in writing this, the long hours that went into the detailing it and the uncanny instinct that helped focus on that one thing that Indians love to obsess about- Potty!

I know, as the daughter of a gastroenterologist. I grew up hearing stories from my dad on the strong links between the bowels and the emotions, especially in Indian culture. On how the cures he offered were less about medication than about listening to his patients and counseling them. On how bowel movements were a reflection of relationships, of a person’s status in their family, of their self-esteem, a whole bunch of stuff that was way beyond anatomy and digestive processes. So Juhi, spot on! My father is smiling at you from wherever he is, and that’s my way of saying you simply aced it with Piku.

Leave your brains home and laugh away! Chashme Baddoor

I’m not impressed by remakes, as a rule. But it’s hard to resist a classic David Dhawan movie, no matter how intellectual you think you are (jokes on me people!)….

ImageI went in to see Chashme Baddoor with low expectations. After all, how excited can anyone be about a bunch of first timers or losers (had a fairly low opinion of Ali Zafar, for instance, and detested his chocolate boy looks)! I was in for a surprise, though.

The film is pure slapstick, rather predictable and loud, but it keeps the viewer engaged. The events unfold at breakneck speed and crafty dialogue keeps the laughs coming. It treads that oh-so-thin line between vulgarity and hilarity rather well, despite Siddharth’s best attempts at putting us off by jiggling his man boobs at the slightest provication. Newcomer Divyendu Sharma, whose character is modeled on Ravi Baswani in the original, was rather good. Ali Zafar redeemed himself slightly and watching him deliver some punchy lines and improve his comic timing convinces me once again of David Dhawan’s sheer talent as a director of comic films. Tapsee Pannu, who plays the female lead, pitched in and the talented Rishi Kapoor and Lilette Dubey did a great job of providing the balance to what would otherwise have been rather over-the-top! However, I’m glad Dhawan had the sense to recognize that Lilette and not Tapsee is far more deserving of Deepti Naval’s role!

What made the film work was good dialogue and superb direction. What didn’t work was the terrible music, the ’80s dance sequences (they really could have spent money on a choreographer) and the super quirky wardrobes worn by all of the male characters. Siddharth wore pink shorts and purple t-shirt in one scene and I was thinking….oh boy, is this what it takes to get us to laugh?

Anyway, it made for many laughs. I digested all the popcorn I ate. All in a night’s work!

Nail on the head! English Vinglish and life’s bittersweet truths- Oct 5, 2012

For those of us who grew up admiring the versatility of Sridevi, English Vinglish does not disappoint. Of course, she shows her mettle as a fine actor, her only weakness, the quivering voice with poor dialogue delivery, actually becoming a strength in this story of her search for identity and sense of achievement in a world that runs her down for being unable to speak English, a world that judges her and puts her down while barely appreciating her talents. What is particularly hurtful here is that while the outside world is accepting, her own family is constantly critical, making her an object of ridicule and hurting her self esteem.
The script, however, is the undoubted star in the film. With repeated pungent jabs, the dialogue and situations expose uncomfortable truths of India’s rapidly urbanising society, of changing family values and the undeniable importance of self-esteem, self-preservation and self-love.
Over the last few days, an email conversation has been carrying on among our group of girl friends from college days. And a lot of it has been about how hard it is to find yourself in the flurry of activities and commitments that life becomes. No matter how loving and supporting out husbands, and most us have married men we knew and sort of understood before we took the vows, we women feel cornered into roles that demand selfless devotion to our home and family, while as intelligent and educated individuals, we crave active and satisfying work lives as well. Equality is something even we emancipated women work towards constantly. With all due credit to our spouses!
The movie brilliantly illustrates that it is easy to slot people into roles that we find convenient. We stubbornly cling to preconceived perceptions. And how much it hurts when your family and close friends are judgemental about you, we’ve all experienced that sometime in our lives. I know I live with expectations of financial security and protection from my spouse, while love and respect should be my focus, for instance.
Equality is a dream because we are born to believe that the world thrives on inequality. To be in an equal relationship, it is vital to see everything from the other persons perspective before forming opinions or expectations. And women need to take on that challenge just as much as men do.
Is this possible? Are we not already too conditioned by society to be able to do that when we enter a relationship like marriage? Or can we unshackle ourselves from these burdens somehow and take a simpler view of relationships and life?
English Vinglish sends out simple messages that address complex problems. We need to help each other in times of trouble. Appreciation, sensitivity, positivity, respect, being non judgemental, trying to communicate, expressing love and concern. These are the simple building blocks on which relationships are built. We need to remind ourselves everyday that envy, competitiveness, hurtfulness and revenge have no place in a mature relationship. Not everything can be resolved with a candid conversation. Many a time, clarity in our head as an individual and making positive behavioural changes and above all, helping ourselves rather than waiting to be helped, can take us forward when all else seems lost.

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