Monday, November 24, 2008

Helen of Bollywood - courtesy Rediff

The original item girl, femme fatale of Bollywood Helen is an interesting story in her own right.

Rediff’s article ( with a listing of top 10 Helen songs allowed me to revisit nostalgia. The top 10 list is as below, in no particular order

1. Piya Tu Ab To Aaja, Caravan

A petrified Asha Parekh (who wouldn’t be, watching Helen dance like that!!!), exhilarating Asha, gyrating Helen, a writhing man in a giant birdcage dancing pseudo Bharatanatyam steps and pink flamingoes in the background

2. Mera naam chin chin choo, Howrah Bridge

From the black and white era, a wonderful old-style bar atmosphere, great music, Helen starring as Ms. Chin Chin Choo (with apologies to the Chinese for the name caricaturing) and the suave KN Singh and Ashok Kumar adding to the highs.

3. O haseena zulfonwali, Teesri Manzil

Art nouveau, staircases leading upto nowhere, a suited (orange-border) Shammi Kapoor,

4. Yeh mera dil, Don

a tremendously sexy Helen wooing a green-shirted Amitabh with Asha in great form

5. Mungda, Inkaar

An awesome song sung by Usha Mangeshkar (the lesser known amongst her more famous sisters, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosale), Helen in traditional Koli (fisherwomen) dress with a few desi steps to match, a song with lots of oomph

6. Mehbooba, Sholay

a hit song from the cult film, Sholay. Helen and her tribe of gypsies entertaining the dacoit Amjad Khan. Music by and sung by R.D.Burman

7. Tora mann bada paapi, Ganga Jumna

The joker in the pack this, a fully attired Helen as the Indian courtesan dancing the traditional Indian dance steps and carrying it off quite well, with some great sarangi instrumentals in the background

8. Aa jaane jaan, Inteqam

With this its back to the pelvic-thrusting Helen, the vamp in western dress, topped by bird feathers!! And Asha (?) with a softer tone offsong

9. Aiyay ya Suku, Suku, Junglee

giant paintbrushes, pink…umm….tree….thingies, gypsies dancing, a silly but exuberant Shammi Kapoor and the charming Helen

10. Aao na, Mere Jeevan Saathi

the deep cleavaged Helen cant work wonders on the blind Kaka, Rajesh Khanna. So she changes into a hideous pink gown-thingy which stands in contrast to the orange safari of RK. As if that is not enough the whole frame is suffused with a reddish/pinkish/orangish hue. Asha’s great though

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Norwegian Wood - By the Beatles

Haunting tune this by the Beatles.....................a small Indian connection there with the sitar in the background.


I once had a girl, or should i say, she once had me.
She showed me her room, isn't it good, norwegian wood?
She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere,
So i looked around and i noticed there wasn't a chair.
I sat on a rug, biding my time, drinking her wine.
We talked until two and then she said, "it's time for bed".
She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh.
I told her i didn't and crawled off to sleep in the bath.
And when i awoke i was alone, this bird had flown.
So i lit a fire, isn't it good, norwegian wood.

Friday, November 21, 2008

From ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ by Jhumpa Lahiri

Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Custom-House”

………….from the conclusion he sometimes feared was true: that the entire enterprise of having a family, of putting children on this earth, as gratifying as it sometimes felt, was flawed from the start. But these were an old man’s speculations, an old man who was himself behaving like a child

He owned an expensive camera that required thought before you pressed the shutter, and I quickly became his favorite subject, round-faced, missing teeth, my thick bangs in need of a trim. They are still the pictures of myself I like best, for they convey that confidence of youth I no longer possess, especially in front of a camera.

It is clear to me now that my mother was in love with him. He wooed her as no other man had, with the innocent affection of a brother-in-law. In my mind, he was just a family member, a cross between an uncle and a much older brother, for in certain respects my parents sheltered and cared for him in much the same way they cared for me. He was respectful of my father, always seeking his advice about making a life in the West, about setting up a bank account and getting a job, and deferring to his opinions about Kissinger and Watergate. Occasionally, my mother would tease him about women, asking about female Indian students at MIT or showing him pictures of her younger cousins in India. “What do you think of her?” she would ask. “Isn’t she pretty?” She knew that she could never have Pranab Kaku for herself, and I suppose it was her attempt to keep him in the family. But, most important, in the beginning he was totally dependent on her, needing her for those months in a way my father never did in the whole history of their marriage. He brought to my mother the first and, I suspect, the only pure happiness she ever felt. I don’t think even my birth made her as happy. I was evidence of her marriage to my father, an assumed consequence of the life she had been raised to lead. But Pranab Kaku was different. He was the one totally unanticipated pleasure in her life.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Brimful of Asha

Younger than most of us, Ashatai has entranced us for years. Wish you a long life !!!!

Madhuri 'Mads' Dixit

Ladies and Gentlemen. Presenting….the Marvellous Madhuri Dixit.





Comedy by Kuldeep

The explosion of cable television since the days of my childhood has thrown up lots of talents that would have been unimaginable earlier.

I came across Kuldeep on one of the comedy shows and his fluency and grasp of the language, his mimicry, timing and sense of comedy had me entranced.

Just great!!!!!!

Safed Rasgulla

Gubba Ali

National Geographic

baba ramdev

Barack Hussain Obama

Why should the ascendance of a middle-aged charismatic African-American in a far away country half a world away to the presidency, make any difference to a person of my profile i.e. Asian male in his late thirties, located in a tier-2 city in Western India, middle class, with some global exposure but otherwise unaffected by the US and its activities.

But it did affect me. I was shaken and stirred. Tears welled-up. Obama represents the great hope that in a sense all of us have and expect of our rulers. He seems an essentially decent guy with balance in his step and a nature of reaching out to others. Perhaps no more will we hear the ‘axis of evil’ speeches or the world divided into the righteous and the evil; or ‘us’ and ‘them’. Perhaps there will be after all a reconciliatory atmosphere.

And now here’s the cynical me, rearing my head again. I hope he doesn’t turn out to be just another politician……………

Acceptance speech 4-Nov-2008

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Speech at the Democratic National Convention

Iowa Caucus Victory speech

The Story of Barack Obama's Mother,8599,1729524,00.html

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

From ‘India’s Unending Journey’ by Mark Tully

…… of the lessons I have learnt from India is to value humility. Others are to avoid thinking in black and white, to be suspicious of certainty, to search for the middle road, and in particular, to acknowledge that there are many ways to God.

…….. R.C.Zaehner, the former Professor of Eastern religion and Ethics at Oxford……..Hindus do not think of religious truth in dogmatic terms: dogmas cannot be eternal but only the transitory, distorting images of a truth that transcends not only them, but all verbal definition. For the passion for dogmatic certainty that has racked the religions of Semitic origin, from Judaism itself, through Christianity and Islam to the Marxism of our day, they feel nothing but shocked incomprehension.

………Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks………..Bad things happen when the pace of change exceeds our ability to change, and events move faster than our understanding. It is then that we feel the loss of control over our lives. Anxiety creates fear, fear leads to anger, anger breeds violence, and violence – when combined with weapons of mass destruction – becomes a deadly reality. The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation, speaking our fears, listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities discovering a genesis of hope.

Those who are dogmatic and certain that they are right don’t feel vulnerable and have not desire to have conversations. They only want to convince.

……..Chaturvedi Badrinath…..he has written:
The question is one of knowing the true place of everything in the scheme of human life. To value too greatly or too little a particular human attribute in its relation to the rest is to disintegrate the natural wholeness of human personality. To value the material over the spiritual, or the spiritual over the material, the transient over the eternal, or the eternal over the transient, the body over the mind, or the mind over the body, the individual over the society or the society over the individual, the self over the other or the other over the self, is to create conflicts both within ourselves and with the rest of the world

And so to me, the Indian tradition has come to imply that in everything in life, we should seek to be balanced, and that the quest for balance never ends.

In his book, Radhakrishnan explains that Hinduism does not demand the kind of certainty that had always troubled me so much about Christianity, as I understood it. He says there has never been ‘a uniform, stationary, unalterable Hinduism whether in belief or in practice’ and he describes Hinduism as ‘a movement, not a position, a process not a result; a growing tradition, not a fixed revelation’. Because it was not fixed there could be no certainty and the possibility of further development must always be allowed. But even so, Radhakrishna warns against thinking that ‘Hindus doubted the reality of a supreme universal spirit’. Rather, Hindus accept that there can be many descriptions of this spirit and that none is complete. That is why in the Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad there two words neti, neti…..are repeatedly added after a description of the supreme spirit or reality. Radhakrishnan translates neti as meaning ‘not this’. But……… friend the Sanskrit scholar Chaturvedi Badrinath always insists it should be translated as ‘not yet complete’, ‘not this alone’, because the word neti implies that we can never come to a final and complete definition of God, the ultimate reality or the supreme universal spirit – call it what you will.

Hindus….what they do say….is that their certainty is not necessarily the only certainty.

Hinduism doesn’t have a monopoly on pluralism. It is part of the general Indian tradition of questioning, discussion, dissert and indeed skepticism………Pluralism is a characteristic of all the major religions born in India………………….To my mind, pluralism involves humility. It means acknowledging that you don’t have the complete or final answer, that what you know may seem right, but there are other points of view.

Radhakrishnan, who wrote: ‘In Hinduism, intellect is subordinated to intuition, dogma to experience, outer expression to inner reality.’

Meritocracy is a cruel concept because success becomes the goal of life and we can never all be given equal opportunities from birth onwards in order to succeed and become a meritocrat. Those who do not succeed in a meritocracy often suffer mentally because the social ethos implies that it is their fault that they have failed………such societies tend to turn into a rat race, with those who lose being regarded, and regarding themselves as failures. What we need is a society which, while trying to remove disadvantages, at the same time recognizes that we can never all be equal and respects every sort of achievement.
Going back to caste, the system does have a certain social value. Each of the main divisions of caste is divided into hundreds of jati……..each individual should marry within his or her own jati, and it is the members of this jati who form that persons biradari or community. That community can form a rudimentary social system.

……..he decried the caste system as:
the chain of social hierarchy, reflecting an ascending scale of reverence and descending order of contempt that cannot be allowed to be broken in this life. If you are an ‘untouchable’ you are told you should remain so and you are warned that if you deviate and do not discharge the duties of an untouchable and a scavenger you will not get to a higher position after death.

Swami Veda Bharati said, ‘In Yoga, one simply practices the methods and waits for the doctrine to emerge out of the experience.’………….’The yogi ministers to people of all faiths, lets them see the ever-present God in their own church, temple, mosque, or pagoda, but first see him in the temple which is the human personality.’

…….the Irish poet Diarmuid O’Muyrchu…..’the prevailing culture, especially within the formal Church or religion, tends to protect the old values and can be quite harsh in its treatment of those whose spiritual growth leads them in other directions.’

I once heard the Dalai Lama asked why there were different schools of Tibetan Buddhism. With a broad smile he replied, ‘Because there are different sorts of people.’

Chaturvedi Badrinath wrties: ‘There has hardly been anything in human history that has produced greater violence and killing than conflicting perceptions of what truth is.’ It is when those perceptions leave no room for doubt or questioning, when they are held too firmly, that violence follows.

………..Smugness and self-satisfaction in every line of it. That is the Irish church all out…..if not the whole Church. Nothing short of a spiritual earthquake would make them even question their belief in themselves. They don’t know that anything is wrong and they are unteachable. They prefer to be what they are – autocrats, domineering over a sycophantic clergy, holding an ignorant laity in check through fear of eternal damnation.

Philip Francis was the vicar of the small country parish in Cheshire where my siblings and I lived as children after returning from India………..the All Saints Marthall was neither particularly old nor particularly beautiful. Nor could it have been called a prestigious post for a parish priest.
Philip, a small, rather insignificant figure with a wisp of hair standing up on his otherwise bald head, emerged from the vestry Sunday after Sunday to preach to the same handful of faithful church-goers. He was a humble man, and some of the parishioners seemed to think of him as Churchill did of Clement Attlee: ‘He has plenty to be humble about.’ Philip was unmarried, not because he was a celibate priest, but because he had never found anyone to marry. His career was going nowhere. He was never going to hold any higher office in the Church than that of parish priest, and only in small insignificant parishes. If success in the job was to be measured, as if often was in the Church, by ‘bums on seats’, the number of people attending Sunday Services meant that he was a failure. But to me he wasn’t a failure at all. He was an inspiring example of someone who labored and yet who did not seek for any reward; someone who truly practiced the Christian virtue of humility.
The memory of Philip Francis came back to me while I was writing this chapter because it is a critique of a competitive culture obsessed with rewards. Of course there has to be a balance. We cant have a society without competition and rewards…….But that does not mean we should go to the other extreme and accept that rat-racing is the natural sport of human beings.

For many Hindus, Varanasi is the archetypal sacred place, yet almost 1/3rd of its population is Muslim………. Varanasi has learnt to preserve tradition and accommodate change. It is one of the oldest living cities in world – as old as Jerusalem, Athens or Beijing……Diana Eck, who has studied the city’s traditions, religion, and culture….in her book, Banaras, City of Light, she says:

If we could imagine the silent Acropolis and the Agora of Athens still alive with the intellectual, cultural and ritual traditions of classical Greece, we might glimpse the remarkable tenacity of the life of Kashi. Today Peking, Athens and Jerusalem are moved by a very different ethos from that which moved them in ancient times, but Kashi is not.

Varanasi and India have taught me to respect the faith I was born into. For me to become a Hindu would be to deny that Christianity is also a way to God………The Swami told me, ‘Your well being lies within your own tradition.’ I was born a Christian and I believe that by remaining a Christian I am respecting fate and tradition, both of which are such important aspects of a balanced life. There is also a question of loyalty to the Church and to the priests and others who have kept my faith alive at those times when I had almost abandoned it. Bede Griffiths………wrote of a marriage between the East and West. He didn’t divorce the West and marry the East.

For me, India acknowledges that we can never find absolute answers to the most important questions in life, but we must go on asking them. That is why I have called my book India’s Undending Journey. It is a journey we can all learn from

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On the Director: N.Chandra

Am reviewing 2 key films in the filmography of the director N.Chandra ( Whose claim to fame could well be: being the catalyst to the emergence of the talent of Nana Patekar and Madhuri Dixit, both of them Maharashtrians; just like the director.

These 2 films are without doubt the most well known (and probably the most successful) of the films that he directed

Ankush (Trident) (1985) (Hindi Film)

A low budget gritty film, this one packs a surprisingly powerful punch aided in no small measure by the promising emergence of the talent of Nana Patekar, one of the main protagonists.

Essentially the story portrays the lives of some characters of the underbelly of the city: 4 youths driven by frustration, the unfairness of society and unemployment to being small-time hoodlums/gangsters. Essentially good at heart, they lose their way. Until in their neighbourhood, arrive the mother-daughter Jodi of Ashalata (the widow) and Nisha Singh, her idealistic daughter. The lives of the 4 take a turn for the better until an unsavoury event shatters their peace again. The girl, NS is raped by some hoodlums and the law turns a blind eye. And the 4 take it upon themselves to deliver justice.

The 4 youths: Nana Patekar and 3 others engage in minor crime and scuffles and this angle is developed during much of the first part of the movie. The next part is where the widow and her daughter form a bond with these scruffy characters and turn them to lead more meaningful lives. The final part is where the dreaded event and its aftermath occurs. The strong value system of the mother-daughter duo serves as a counterpoint to the lack of values of the gang of 4. The film walks on the tightrope between the 2 views on either side.

The film was quite successful in its time. In no small measure due to the presence of Nana Patekar (the new ‘Angry Young Man’) + the impressive way in which the script developed and the direction in which the plot progressed + its simple plot and premise. This was a time of strong frustration in India and all that cathart-ed onto the screen. The movie attempts to address some of the problems of that era: unemployment being the prime one, generic lawlessness, a lack of societal values and a frustration with the system being the others

Although featuring pretty low production standards (including one memorable sequence of scenes in the beginning where an event has part of the scene in the darkness of the night and part of it in broad daylight, alternating: much to my amusement), the film does raise the bar on quite a few fronts. Some crisp editing (no surprises here, the director started his career as an editor), powerful cameos and lead performances give the film its high watchability quotient. It has some fairly authentic location shoots. And a certain raw poignancy that touches your depths.

Subtlety may not be a strong point in most Hindi films but surprisingly is so over here. No romantic angle is even hinted-at. The relationship between the boys and NS is never classified. Whether there is a romantic angle or whether it is a brotherly/sisterly love? That angle is just not explored. And that’s nice, one just accepts it whatever it is.

The rape is depicted in what seemed to me a surprisingly sensitive fashion. Unlike the time-honoured tradition of most Hindi films, Ankush surprisingly does not drool over the rape or present it full of voyeurism or lasciviousness. There are some graphic scenes but sensitively handled. The sensitive dialogues dealing with the rape too. are rare for a Hindi film.

And a couple of its songs are quite hummable:

Itni Shakti Hame Dena Data

Aaya Mazaa Dildara


Madan Jain
Arjun Chakravarti
Nana Patekar
Suhas Palshikar
Nisha Singh

Screenplay: N.Chandra
Idea and Script: Debu Sen
Dialogues: Sayyed Sultan and N.Chandra
Music: Kuldeep Singh
Producer: Subhash Duragkar and N.Chandra
Writer, Editor, Director: N.Chandra

Tezaab (Acid) (1988) (Hindi Film)

Tezaab is a ‘Violent Love Story’ as it proclaims about itself at the beginning. The story and its handling is not of much consequence.

The primary reason why this movie was a super-duper hit was Madhuri Dixit, who arrived with a bang in the Hindi film industry and was to become one of its top heroines in the subsequent decade. The iconic song ‘Ek Do Teen’ and Madhuri’s dancing skills further aided that in no small measure. ‘Mads’ Madhuri Dixit’: Hindi films have never been the same after Mads.

Watching the movie itself some 20 yrs down the line sure is an embarrassing experience. It is sloppy at times, overtly violent, chauvinistic, caricaturist, garish and so on. But during those magical times, Tezaab was a breath of fresh air. And this has more to do with the movies that preceded it. The years prior to Tezaab were when Hindi films reached their nadir. One quote on them would suffice

Those who remember Bollywood of the eighties, remember them with a shudder. The women wore salwars with dhotis, the men had big hair and no one, not even the Khans of our current nostalgia trip, could rescue the films and make them kitsch classics. – Udita Jhunjhunwala

And onto this dreary landscape arrived Madhuri Dixit. Mads was refreshingly daring and not inhibited. Scanty dressing notwithstanding she still managed to appear virginally innocent, which is guess she was !!!!! She signaled the arrival of the Indian MTV generation. In those days her revealing dresses and suggestive moves in this song caused much public outrage and charges of increasing social immorality. By today’s standards however, it is pretty tame. Anyway, while the magic lasted, Mads and her songs were a young boy’s ultimate wet dream.

Her brilliant smile, the youthfulness and energy, the evident sincerity. Years have gone by, much of Tezaab is forgotten. But to some of us, the infatuation for Mads still remains.

And now about the songs:

Ek Do Teen has 2 versions but I could find only one on youtube….the more famous one with Madhuri all the way

The other 2 songs too are quite hummable / watchable.

So Gaya Yeh Jahaan

Keh Do Ke Tum

Other than that, there is some stellar emoting from Anil Kapoor (that is assuming you turn a blind eye to his dancing/prancing), Anupam Kher, Kiran Kumar and the supporting cast. And then there is the terrific chemistry between AK and MD that started with this movie and had so many others incarnations subsequently.

Story, Screenplay: N.Chandra
Dialogues: Kamlesh Pandey
DoP: Baba Azmi
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
Music: Laxmi-Pyare

So what were the commonalities in both the movies:

There is a strong feeling of earthiness where the characters and inspirations are born from the underbelly of the city. As evidenced by the Bambaiya lingo.

The underdogs are the heroes and the director attempts to resurrect the ‘Angry Young Man’ of yore because the average Indian is angry.

There is a strong antipathy towards law, the police and their impotence and a violent attempt to resist. The wheel however turns a full circle in both films and we see the characters ultimately adhering to acceptable morality.

Sadly N.Chandra sort of faded away after these 2 initial successes. Were he around, Hindi films would have been less elitist and class conscious in these times