Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Gloom Barabar Doom

That's how I would describe the latest Amitabh-Abhishek-Preity-Bobby-Lara Dutta starrer that released about 5 days back. I actually did advance-booking to catch a late-night show of this joke of a movie. There were about 50 other sufferers with me in the theater that fateful night.
130 minutes was the total length of the misery, of which 40 minutes were spent in reiterating the title song in different forms, with all the main characters trying their best to out-dance the others. Big B definitely took the cake, with an outlandish hairstyle and some of the absurdest costumes I've seen him wear. As the credits rolled at the end of the movie, I distinctly spotted the 'story development' credits right at the top, for a movie that really had as much story as the bedtime story my two-year old niece hears. The only commendable aspect of the movie was the music by Shankar-Loy-Ehsaan, that is first-rate both in quality and popularity.
It disappoints me to see Amitabh Bachchan wasted literally as an 'item boy' in this Yash Chopra production, even as he delivered a performance par excellence in the other movie I saw last week. Cheeni Kum (directed by R. Balki, and easily one of the best movies I've seen in the past year) saw the Amitabh Bachchan and Tabu in beautifully etched out roles, ably supported by veterans Zohra Sehgal and Paresh Rawal, not to forget the child artiste who played the cancer patient.
It was disheartening to see movies like Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna rake in money for its producers. Gauging the crowd at the theater that evening, I am hopeful Yashraj learn their lesson this time around, and not take their audiences for granted.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Great Indian Walmart

Which was my favorite experience among the lot? The '5-second darshan and push everyone around you' experience at Tirupati; the 30-minute traffic snarl at Bangalore airport arrival lane at 12 midnight; or being one among (I am guessing) over 10,000 shoppers at the Saravana store, T-Nagar, Chennai.

Tirupati, the most visited place in the world, is a world-renowned place of worship and you most certainly expect crowds on each day that the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west. But our visit was special. Ex-CM Chandrababu Naidu decided to have his 'Mahanadu convention' at Tirupati at the same time, and this made everything difficult during our darsanam. For the first time, there were queues to get out of the temple after offering our prayers. My mind wandered to think what would happen if there were a stampede right there as we exited the temple premises.

Everyone knew Bangalore as a beautiful city of gardens, pleasant weather and helpful people. Now, I know Bengalooru as a place where you need at least an hour to get to any place, no matter how close it is. Bangalore was never planned to be a metro like Chennai, and now it seems that it cannot handle the pressures thrust upon it by the IT personnel influx that only seems to be increasing with each arriving flight (by what I saw at the airport that night).

One surprisingly magnificent experience was shopping at Saravana stores, where I happened to enter to buy some essentials. 7 floors, over 1000 customers on each floor, over 100 attendants on each floor, mind-boggling variety in almost everything you can think about: fruits, sarees, shirts, suits, shoes and chappals, plastics, steel, toys, cell phones and more. There is even a superb canteen that caters to the shopper's hungry palate. All prices are well below regular retail stores, so you always get the best deal for any product. What's intriguing is that the store is maintained to handle the madding crowds, check shoplifters, service and returns, very very efficiently. It seems there are people who arrive at Saravana straight from the Chennai railway station and return to their villages directly after their shopping spree, their hands full with those typical jute bags they doll out for bulk shoppers. That day, I got out in a short while, but I promise to return to have a better and longer rendezvous with Saravana.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Final Flourish

Athletic, romantic, picturesque, multi-cultural, friendly, progressive, intelligent… Madison in Wisconsin, my home for three years during my Master’s studies, is all this and more. There could be no words to express how much I am already missing being there, my lab, my home, my roommates, my entire day. Madison changed a lot about me, mainly for the better. I lived through uncountable moments of laughter and thrill, fun and frolic.
What made my final stay in Madison very memorable besides good times with friends and well-wishers was the opportunity to witness a concert by Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar. I never really had a chance to hear him ever before in India or in the US. On the 17th April, just as I was leaving Madison for good, Ravi Shankar accompanied by his daughter Anoushka Shankar performed at the newly renovated Overture Center in Madison downtown. For me, it was a dream come true to hear undeniably the most popular performing Indian classical artist. I was more curious to know how Ravi Shankar could deliver at the age of 87. Lots has been written and said about his music, much acclaim, and plenty of criticism to go along with that too. Yet, I was thrilled to experience first-hand, what many non-Indians consider as the best and predominant expression of Indian culture and music.
Glamorous pamphlets (if I can dare to call those information booklets that!), heavy security checks and an enormous buzz greeted us at the entrance doors. Past that, I was pleasantly surprised at our seating that was in the 6th row from the front in an auditorium that seated over 2000. We didn’t need the binoculars that I took along to catch a glimpse of the artists from close quarters. Still, I did not lose the chance to use them to get a clearer view of Anoushka who was glittering like no other classical Indian artist I have ever seen on stage!!
Anoushka staged the first half of the performance with Tanmay Bose on the tabla and Ravi Kullur on the flute, all highly creative and talented, but only one who ran the show from the beginning to the end. If I was impressed with her playing skills, I was in complete awe of the confidence and pizzazz that she oozed. And she played Puriyadhanashree and Keervani ragas, both that have counterparts in Carnatic music (called Panthuvarali and Keeravani respectively), and both my absolute favorites. After a short break, we were finally treated to the Maestro’s music for which we had all been waiting for: Ravi Shankar entered to a standing ovation from the audience. He played a beautiful khayal in Behag followed by a thumri in Mishra Kafi. Whereas he took some incubation time to display his toned flourishes, it was well worth the wait.
If there were any complaints in my mind, it was only that we couldn’t hear them for longer; and the fact that their music is an abbreviated (or abridged) version of the true presentation of Hindustani classical music, made to suit the Western audiences’ tastes. The world already knows all the greatness about Ravi Shankar. Now, all eyes and ears would be on Anoushka as she takes Indian classical music to even further beyond what her father attempted.