Monday, March 24, 2008

Divine comedy

A post related to the title tag-line of this blog. A million problems and issues ride our minds at every second - some real, some more important than that. Our big escape from that can be some form of stimulation – sports, meditation, arts or maybe cinema. Since I have a very poor relationship with the first three, I will talk of my only option - the last one. I am not an avid television person but I am crazy about cinema. It may probably be a small side effect of a Mumbai existence but it could be a general human feature.
In cinema, I subscribe to what the typical Indian movie maker sells, but I have a major craving for good comedy. It gives me all the high that I miss out from not using drugs. But of course, not all attempts at comedy are funny. The Hindi film industry had been starved for good comedy for close to two decades until the Dil Chahta Hai’s and the Lagaans came out. Though it has still not fully gotten back to the magic that prevailed in the times of Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee, there are at least the odd movies like ‘Kal ho na ho’, ‘Waqt’ and ‘Khosla ka Ghosla’ that weave in some really tingling bits into their script. The comedy tracks that prevailed until then were never good enough to be called lackluster (with the exception of some brilliant bits by Paresh Rawal and Johnny Lever in the movie ‘Judaai’ and a couple of Aamir Khan movies that could make you smile).
The other Indian cinema industry that I follow – the Tamil industry - fared and is still faring a lot better. What was started off by Thangavelu and Nagesh in the sixties and seventies was carried through the eighties and nineties by Goundamani, Janakaraj and Senthil and finally the torch still is held high by Vivek, Vadivelu and the recent Ganja Karupan, each of the stars adding their own colors to it. Of course there are people who never found any of them funny enough but they are not authors on this blog article. Comedy in this industry is so good that despite the current infection of the industry by some people who should have joined some other industry totally unrelated to entertainment, (someone please burn their D.F. Tech. degrees) the finances are still being held stable in many production houses single handedly by the comedy tracks that these greats graciously keep doling out.
Of course there is this whole parallel store of comic cinema that actually did not intend to be so, but nevertheless provides as much entertainment as a quality comedy track would. I talk of the Mithuns, the TRs, the recent Sam Andersons and even Shivaji Ganeshan from the seventies. These movies are meant to be taken in a serious nature (and there are the target audiences that does too) but some others like me take it as a different form of entertainment (hey, after all it is an entertainment industry!).
What makes these movies funny? Is it the excessive jingoistic overacting, is it the bloopers, is it the unbelievable nature of the cinema or is it the fact that the cinema refuses to accept its mediocrity? Jingoism, in my opinion is there in all cinema and some excessively jingoistic movies like Border were big hits not because they were taken to be funny. Second, bloopers exist in all movies and it just takes a keen eye to find them. Third, cinema is allowed to have unbelievable moments and larger than life elements because that is what makes it so fantastic and different and entertaining in comparison to real life. Though of course it is quite funny that a girl that is a third of his age goes weak on the knees for Vijaykanth, (as in that being unbelievably gross even in cinema) and a hundred people spontaneously combust by his very stare, it does not cover the entire spectrum of this parallel industry. There are some other grandpas who still are superstars. In fact such an extreme larger than life effect is taken very serious by most of the movie makers and a large fraction of the public. That leaves just mediocrity.
What defines mediocre cinema? Everyone comes to watch movies with a different mindset and look for different elements in it. Most often the quality of the cinema is based on the element(s) that they looked at but does not always cover everything. Then how can we call a movie mediocre in a general sense? Would it be by a majority of public opinion? In that case, what does the majority of the public call mediocre?
The answer may not be very simple but can be illustrated to make it quite clear. Rajnikanth’s movies are not called mediocre in the Tamil industry because they are taken seriously and his extreme acts and punch elements are called entertaining. The very same act by T Rajendar would be heavily laughed at. One could argue – T Rajendar looks like a Neanderthal’s poor clone and Rajnikanth has a better style. But his son Simbu does look more human than Rajnikanth does and can be made to act well in some situations too. Why did his attempts at heroic dialogue in his debut movie get laughed at, while his later Vallavan (that did not show better acting/screenplay/dialogue/direction in any way) was called a serious hit? Vijaykanth looks like the same species that T Rajendar is claimed to be. But the former is still taken more seriously (not wholly but still substantially, to quote Pt. Nehru). Does Vijakanth offer a better quality in his movies (at least currently)?
One more element to add before I discuss the above - the Hindi movie industry does not seem to offer any extra quality in their acting, dialogue, comedy (already established above) or cinematography. In fact, cinematographers are drawn from the south. Then why is it so that in Bombay, Delhi and Jamshedpur, south Indian cinema (read Tamil cinema. Most people north of the state of Karnataka are not aware of the other south industries. Except for maybe the Malayalam industry but that is thought to entirely be a soft porn industry) is hugely made fun of and the same godly Rajnikanth is mocked openly with the mind-its and the quick-gun Murugans? The answer probably is – budget. The recent ‘Shivaji' by the same person was actually taken seriously in these provinces because of it record – India’s most expensive movie yet. One may scroll back to the previous paragraph to see it sound a bit clearer now.
This argument could sound specious but there is more to stimulate the thinking mind. The bollywood industry, as the Indian industry is popularly called abroad, is called so because it was made in Hollywood’s image – a rip off. Of course the aware world citizen would laud the bollywood industry as ‘full of color and masala’ but it is never treated in the same level of seriousness as a Hollywood or a British production. That is not a result of lack of reach as Indians have migrated to even El Dorado. It is similar to how the Hindi industry treats the Tamil industry.
Big budget is the new brand word. Big budgets mean quality – that is what is sold. The media is worried more about the budget of the movie than what its USP is. And that has carried over to the consumer as well. ‘Taare Zameen Par’ was a big hit; ‘revolutionary children’s movie’ – it was hailed. But the same public never even knew an even more revolutionary ‘Halo’ by Santosh Sivan because it was low budget. There are a million better examples of this but the point driven is the same.
However the purpose is not to promote sensible cinema watching or cut down on excessive expenses in cinema. As stated before, it is an entertainment industry and we draw what we choose from it.
I am a big fan of the Mithuns and the T Rajendars. Not just because of some comedy involved but because of the other thing that they are doing. Though they are not getting great movies out, they provide jobs to so many people who entirely depend on it for their frugal existence. Why is it so important to have a great fight in the movie even though it doesn’t add to the story in any way? The stuntmen and the doubles depend on it for their bread. Technology has pretty much limited the roles of extras, spot boys, doubles, make-up artists, art persons, set designers and makers, stunt men and such. You can be waving your hand in front of a blue screen and the final movie can show you as a great knight slapping an army of dragons. Low tech pavilions that remain – the Bhojpuri industry and the b-grade industries, T Rajendar, Joe Stanley and so many other grass root production houses are their last hope.
To conclude a post that could have taken lesser words to get across, I have always wondered why Kamal Hassan always had to have a car stunt in every one of his movies after the eighties (with the exception of a bare few) even though it never helped the plot. It provides employment. I have even heard that during the 1997-1998 Tamil industry strike, when a lot of the lower rung industry workers faced unemployment and poverty with nowhere to go to, he brought together a team to make a movie called ‘Kadhala Kadhala’ when went on to become one of his best comedy movies and gave a lot of jobs to these people while the actors’ guild refused to do something about the situation. Most of the actors and the top rung members of the movie did not draw anything for their work but passed on the entire sum to the ones who really depended on it. That’s probably why the movie had large numbers of extras going around doing nothing and most of the movie involved sets. Kamal Hassan has his heart in the industry. Mithunda and TR fall in the same league.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

To be precise...

What is a nerd and what is a geek? Often I have observed the use of these terms interchangeably and sometimes I have seen one term being used to cover elements that conform to both terms. I wouldn’t say it is wrong; I support colloquial definitions (not very ethically, but yet quite clearly) in English and other languages partly due to my own ineptness in living up to the standards of Victorian English. But the thoughtless misuse of the terms creates quite a degree of confusion and misinterpretation in many circles.
Both terms are American (anti-British if I may) and have specific characteristics and differ in many senses and many of them are not just subtle. Doubtless, there are similarities – both are characterized by a certain degree of academic drive, social ineptness and a certain lack of focus on appearance. But both terms have evolved over time with continuous tampering and refining to their present positions where a clear distinction may be made.
The first point of difference is the origin – the word geek actually has an English (meaning fool) source though the meaning has been corrupted and evolved with time and use. The term nerd has no English origin (though it may be a derivative of certain known words but that is not clear). This may not be a very consequential difference and so it will not demand attention beyond this.
A more embodied difference is the appearance. Though both may be thought to lack focus on appearance, often once can see a nerd being very conventionally unsightly. The geeks of the current timeline are not so easily identifiable. They may have a pretty smile and may still retain the geek gene. A nerd would typically have untended oily hair, glasses that were a trend when glasses were invented, pants that were a in vogue more recently in the 1920s, a shirt that would be slightly too big or slightly too small, a very noticeable lack of fat and a certain dental aberration. A geek can manage to escape that to a fair extent but may not to the point where the pay attention to how they look and match their pants to their shirts. Often they wear only t-shirts (primarily because they are easier to live with and don’t have buttons that require painful attention but it could also be that geeks have a liking for messages on their shirts and very few of such condition lack the t- element). Nevertheless, a geek is not so likely to win a date by his/her allure quotient as the focus lies in a different direction.
A geek is characterized primarily by a passionate drive for certain things like academics (though not at all limited to), technology, gadgetry, music, movies and such. In fact, such a tendency is the very definitive factor of a geek. A geek may conform to all or some of these conventions. So a non-academic person may still be a geek if he is crazy about electronics and his favorite outings are to best buy and circuit city. Such drives are often prioritized over social needs and hence there is a certain lack of real friends (though geeks may be very socially active in the virtual world) and social participation. A geek may be really cool in his/her own perspective and in the perspectives of his peers making him a success in some circles but not in general ones. Their train of thought also runs along the same lines and that limits the extent to with others may relate to them or vice versa.
A nerd on the other hand is driven towards only academics and its allies. The books read are science-fiction. The social circles are math and physics club. Nerds may not have the choice of rejecting social calls; they are often excluded before that. They have a resultant social hunger that drives them to do some very silly things and nerds are often found approaching the other sex in quite a sloppy manner. Nerds may not always be the best people to talk everything with, though they may be very good for academic discussions. A nerd friend is not a conventional social asset unless you are a nerd too (though it may be observed that nerds often watch each others’ backs and make good friends within their own kin so it is not all hope lost to be one). Nerds are generally thought to end up very successful due to their academic motivation and may often be found dating supermodels after they make their first few millions, though a geeky habit may not always be a very productive or vocationally viable one.
Both terms have evolved from extreme to extreme through time. In the past, the n-word carried a milder tag while the g-word was often used for offense. In their current avatars however, being a nerd may conventionally be less desirable than being a geek.
Being a geek has evolved to such a positive state that often geeks proclaim their condition out loud and strong. There is a certain ego and arrogance that goes with the tag and they chose to retain all of that. It feels good to be someone who’s rejected society for technology. It feels good to be a competent geek in geek circles; you are respected by that circle for it. It feels good to hit out on the world for being unable to see what you see, from your weblog.
Of course nerds also follow suit for similar reasons. You can be a reject through your childhood and college life but once you have salvaged your academic potential for professional success, you can hire many conventionally popular individuals to do your bidding at will. Definitely that fosters a dormant ego that does not wish to stay quiet about it.
I would think that such appeal (or the lack of it) can be bred or avoided by personal choice. One definitely can be what one chooses to be if one does carry a true motivation and genuineness for it. Some things are skin deep and others can be purchased for a small fee. It is the mindset that makes the individual that the social pundits pass judgment on.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The guy quotient

I made this post many moons ago and descriptively wrote at great length on it with many revisions and additions. Out of simple mortal fear, I have deleted everything to give you basic commandment.

"Thou shalt fulfill the guy quotient. No matter how old you get or how forth in a relationship you are, your time with the guys is an essential. Lose it and you lose the ability to do something when you are told to get a life."


Friday, March 14, 2008


There are some aspects of life, science even, that everyone experiments on everyday, and learns and knows and uses. For example, at the end of high-school, one often thinks that one has seen and known enough stereotypes and flavors of people to the point of being able to predict people by mere observation. Vehicular kinematics, cooking, animal psychology, plants, machines and even academic research get a lot more predictable with repeated exposure. Life occurs like a standing wave - it is quantized, and it has its nodes where you know you've finished one wavelength and you're going to start another with negligible amplitude running in the current moment.

This experimental procedure has its perks - you know more, sometimes more than people around you - thats a perk sometimes. You use it to make it to your cheese with minimal effort, thats a very constructive perk. You enjoy being in control of things - things come your way and you think you knew it all along and planned it, thats a perk. You become a person that everyone else thinks is the counselor; you're in demand - thats a great perk.

My favorite perk is where I find myself again.

The quanta of my life and their associated elements on the whole have been very nice to me. But contrary to its overall structure, in each one of them I have found a similar pattern that drives me to associate life with the shape of a standing wave.

I start a section and probe; the first steps are silent. But once I feel the floor under I start jogging, thumping hard and finally running. I leave my friends behind. It feels good, it feels like I am doing what I was meant to do. I stretch out. I look around. I see a lot more around me now; and it is beautiful. The medium that surrounds me has liked something in my exercise so for. It claps and cheers for more. I can now stay on at the same pace or evolve and sate the medium's request. I smile. And stretch out further; I evolve. I am safe. This is a good change it is. The medium watches. And then it happens.

Something limits the stretch. Something blocks it. I look around frantically. I see some distortion; it is not the perfection I had thought it to be. I do not want to believe it. I push myself harder. That that surrounds me must be good and perfect and true. I work and pant and sweat and strain and scream and then I faint. That that I had feared most has come to occur. I am done for. I am quenched. The medium watches.

But I am not dead. I am diminished but i retain my old form. I get up slowly and stand again. I start walking slowly. And then i trot. I remember how I used to love trotting in my previous segment. I look over my shoulder, and spot my friends. They have caught up with me. I smile back. And together we trot till we are close to the end. A couple of others join us. A good pace is now needed to jump through the wormhole into the next segment. We improve our speeds slowly and gracefully run though. The medium watches.

I, again, am at a similar point - the end of one wave and the start of yet another. But it is a lot more similar than just that. I ended it with the same people that i started it with. I ended it with the same pace that I started it with. I even ended it with the same mood that i started it with. Strangely I feel that I have run back to the last node and merged with what I was then. Or maybe reinvented my old form with more reason backing it this time. I trace my short trip - I started off well, lost myself somewhere, found myself again, ignored the medium and its bulk, found my friends and myself again.

It is a standing wave in many ways. In others, It is like a set of adventures of a comic-book hero - each segment ending with "happily ever after".

I am relieved, ecstatic, content and raring to go, all in one moment; not as much for passing the segment, as for the fact that I regained myself. I look at the medium from the corner of my eye again. It watches. It does its job. As I am meant to do mine.

I will start again. I will stretch out and be challenged and hurt and fall. I will be struck out. But that will not keep me from playing the game. I love being the element that is me.