Are talent shows just miniature versions of competition in life?

Indian TV right now is all about reality shows, and major chunk of it is made up of music, dance or any other kind of performance oriented competitive stuff. Young talent from different parts of the country gets a platform and all of it makes good entertainment. You know the drill, I do not need to elaborate on how some even have artificial drama, arguments, tears and ego clashes between judges.

Many participants find work in projects run by the very same judges and all that is praiseworthy. I ended up watching some episode of a music talent show and was struck by the praise showered on the participants. Some were repeatedly told ‘you will definitely be a maestro soon’ (tum zarur ustaad banoge), and most of the appreciation was on the lines of such extremities. Very few talents have made it big out of such shows, that’s another reality.

Do I have a point? Yes, while it is good to provide platform to newbies, why indulge in such an extreme fake positivity? I was thinking on the similar lines while an interview struck a chord. British stage artist Bonnie Langford may not have any connection to Indian entertainment industry but what she says in this interview about reality shows definitely makes sense in India.

“They’re a great platform for new talent, but it does worry me that they sell a celebrity lifestyle that doesn’t really exist – and they can be very cruel. People either become deluded, or they get taken to a certain level and then dropped. Perhaps they should start an after-care programme,” says Bonnie.

I wonder if these talent shows are just miniature versions of competition in life in general. Life is definitely no walk in the park, but it seems much kinder.

Interestingly, if they do start an after-care programme in India, it might as well be in the Big Boss house..

Body language of words…

When a new story ruffles your hair,
How do you not bow your head?
Why does it stop being new so soon?

The body language of words is more disturbing than your sighs.
Did that story do that to you?If someone else’s ideas make you happy,
You will also have to carry their scars.

Everything seems old to a limping imagination,
There are no more new stories.
Even the air doesn’t change while breathing into a paper bag.

2nd December, 2012.

Burn with carbs

How different is fake positivity from eating diet food?
Somehow the mind remains undeceived.
Because it knows the game all along.

Feeling like a paragraph from some other book won’t help you on this page.
Remember, books burn easily than carbs.
The bottled sunshine you brought back from the mountains,
is running out.

Try some spoons of pudding.
The taste of sweet, cynical reality never burns with carbs.
Noises and sunshine taste the same in this city.
Making sense isn’t your priority anymore.
Perhaps it never was, all along.

1st December, 2012.

Peace of a Puzzle


Peace of a Puzzle
I walked out of a beautiful picture,
disturbing the peace of a puzzle.
Beautiful pieces turned into mountains and a hut,
but I always wanted to see the real world.
I’m a rain-kissed pebble now,
or at least I want to be one.
I’ve breathed the changing colours of the sky.
Should I worry that I’m fading, dissolving?
This real world too seems to be missing a few pieces,
but no one seems to care.
No one came back looking for me,
but missing pieces of life have a way of finding a story of their own.

The Casual Vacancy

ImageI was excited and scared when ‘The Casual Vacancy’ landed on my Kindle bookshelf. More scared than excited, Out of sheer respect for the past decade that I’ve spent in Potter fandom, I desperately wanted to like it. It is too serious and grim, but I wonder why critics were out there even before the release quoting out of context random sexual references from the book.

We can all deal with profanity, bad language or grown up descriptions of any kind. Much can be talked about this book which does succeed in making you forget, it was written by the same author who wrote Harry Potter, but I’m not sure if it is a good or a bad thing.

Set in a small town of Pagford, Rowling sketches some rough characters and gives them a situation where they end up revealing their dark inner self. I found myself getting interested in the social and political milieu, characters are likable enough, and writing is really brilliant in places. What seems absent is that remarkable imagination that this woman possesses, but then this is not a fantasy. Pagford and its young residents like Andrew, Sukhvinder, Pats, Krystal or the old hats like Shirley, Howard, Miles, Kay or anyone from the lot do not have depth but they do serve the purpose of bringing out the social conflict and their inner issues.

In the mix of Pagford’s residents, there is also a Sikh family, and Rowling has put enough research in their description to make this second generation Britons look natural. I found it much familiar, having recently watched Anita and Me, but the way Rowling deals with their feeling of being outsiders and portrays their cultural heritage with such sensitivity, that marks the maturity of the writer. She just doesn’t instill racial or class related profanity for the sake of it.

Interestingly, her best characters even in ‘The Casual Vacancy’ are teenagers. One can understand Rowling’s wish to break out of the image of ‘children’s author’ and the need to prove her versatility, but her understanding of the young minds shines better than the rest of her dull adult characters in The Casual Vacancy.

The book is daring and she doesn’t need to prove her skills to create a world with social conflict to anyone after seven really logical fantasies. The problem for me lies in the fact that after reading about Rowling’s ‘political correct’ attitude in a colourful magical world of Hogwats, Pagfordians come across as dull creatures. Pagford is often too limited, dark, artificial and unreal compared to her parallel universe of wizards.

Rowling often seems to have this constant need to be ‘politically correct’. That tone, that moral high-ground works wonderfully in a fantasy, but it seems to falter a bit in the pages of ‘The Casual Vacancy’.

Many ‘Average Joe’ writers for grown ups have come up with different versions of moral dilemma, socio-political problems or individual angst. Jo Rowling has the ability and possibility of telling the same stories through a much colourful canvas. She has the freedom to write anything she wants, and feels good to see her doing that. But I wonder if there is anything wrong in sticking to what you know the best.

Tale of Two Libraries in Stuttgart

Wilhelmpalais – Old Stuttgart Library building

Books are my closest friends, new and old. Past few years of my life have been spent in strange new places where I’ve often preferred the company of books to people. Technically books aren’t an alternative to human company but a good book to a fake and futile conversation is always preferable. And Europe seems to agree with me on that thought, or at least Germany does.

I have hardly seen a park, a tram, a bench, a station where people are not reading. Sometimes during heavy commuting hours almost everyone could be seen with their face buried in books. In fact the day before in the cinema hall, a guy was reading till the lights went off for the movie.

Obviously libraries and book stores are taken seriously here and are seriously huge. Not to mention every area of the city has its own small section of the library as well. But in Stuttgart one of my favorite places was the old Stadtbücherei on Charlottenplatz which was earlier Wilhelmspalais, home of the king Wilhelm II. After a lot of mayhem in the 1900s, since 1965 it had been the library. After being inside a building with colourful history, Stuttgart library has now moved into the all white new building at the Mailänderplatz.

The new building is white in such a way that the only colours you can see are of book jackets and the people browsing through them. It is a beautiful and imposing building almost reminding one of  a rubik’s cube. Though it does feel a bit too overwhelming at first after stepping inside. Was it because I loved the antiquity of the Wilhelmspalais? Or simply because the new library has too much space? May be both.

Architecturally, it is considered to be one of the most beautiful new libraries in the world. Korean architect Eun Young Yi has indeed left his mark as four top corners of the building include the word ‘library’ in German, English, Arabic and Korean. I don’t know how organic it is, but it definitely is stylish. I don’t have an expert understanding of architecture but I do understand what pleases my eyes. I like the space and peace that the new library gives me. But I miss the old one. Sometimes the new one reminds me of futuristic science fiction, but not in a bad way.

New Stuttgart Library

As of now the outer side of the old one is littered with empty bottles, but soon by 2016, it will be the new Stuttgart museum. Too much boring details, I know. As far as a library is concerned, the collection of books always matters more than the shape of the building and Stuttgart is more than satisfying in that area. Even the most clumsy libraries have surprised me with some of the best literary works in India.

And for the buildings, the old does have to make way for the new, no matter what the reasons are. Sometimes I wish old and new were not always the opposites of each other.

Brave

Merida likes her flaming red curls wiggle in the wind as she bounces around the Scottish highlands. This is one princess who doesn’t want or probably need a prince to justify herself. Perhaps she doesn’t even want to be a princess at times when she is being forced into doing the right things by her mother.

Merida has tiny little triplet brothers who create havoc around the castle but no one bothers to correct them. ‘How to behave taboos’ are mostly meant for girls. Most fairy tales emphasize on a princess looking like one and being treated like one. This ‘princess’ stuff is so deep rooted in every culture in their own way that has been stereotyping women for a while now. Not that there is anything wrong with being a princess but somehow our fiction princesses are either waiting to kiss frogs, getting rescued from castles and dragons and waiting for their knights in shining armor. Merida is her own knight in shining armor.

On the whole the story had some good laughs and women who have gone crazy bickering with their mothers as teenagers will identify more with Merida and her mom. But I like the mamma bear better than the real queen. Well, that’s just the little kid in me talking. I want to see more of Merida and her adventures. It is refreshing to see a princess who doesn’t need to be rescued.

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Salzburg does things to me…

It is so difficult to feel alert all the time, but then it is also difficult to even feel all the time. There is so much sameness in the beauty. Mountains, rivers, grass and water, they all feel the same, good. The sameness of beauty is taking me somewhere. Do I even want to go where it is taking me? Is drifting my nature if I am drifting intentionally? Image

I envy the man writing in his notebook as I type this. Why does he look closer to Nature, even though we are sitting on the banks of the same Salzach? Perhaps he is just pretending to be alive with that moldy pencil and a leather bound stack of leaves.

At the back, there is a kind of flea market. There are small huts selling the culture of some lesser civilizations. Why is there a stall selling Ganesha idols and Tasmanian devils there? My can of beer makes the same clinking sound as the wooden wind chimes on the stalls behind. I’m scared of a couple of bees. But that’s the price you sometimes pay, a pinch of blood and a week of itching pain for the luxury of grass under the open skies by the river.

The man writing with his fingers is now talking to the woman next to him. She seems too artificial and young for him. She is his reality and not that moldy pencil. Or may be I want it to be so. She makes my overtly beautiful reality more bearable. I have finished my beer but my thoughts refuse to take a break. Salzburg does things to me.

There are two giggly American girls soaking their feet in the water. Everything in the world is amusing to them. They say it has been too hot, the river runs low and the grass is turning yellow. Why is it that still Salzburg does things to me? The history, the building and the hills alive with Sound of Music are too familiar, like the taste of Apple strudel in my mouth. My mind is not a tourist any more. It belongs to a much better thought process. Wait, the thought process rather belongs to the mind. Salzburg does things to me. I didn’t know I missed you till I met you again.

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A few minutes with Rajesh Khanna…

In 1996 before the general elections in India, Rajesh Khanna visited Ahmedabad. He was going to be the congress candidate for Gandhinagar that year. The press conference at the President hotel on C G Road was surprisingly less crowded. There were local journalists and some scattered politicos. After the formal announcements and Q&A, the organizers were busy with lunch. Due to a loop hole on the part of organizers or simply because no one cared, Rajesh Khanna was still in the conference room.

A barely teenage girl accompanied her journo dad that day to this conference. Wait, I was that girl. It was mostly about a glimpse of the ex-super star. I had seen every possible movie that came my way in the 80s and 90s, and needless to say Anand, Bawarchi, Namak Haram, Aradhana, and for some reason Avatar were seen many times. I had no idea instead of just a glimpse I will get an almost 15 minute long conversation with Rajesh Khanna.

Having spoken to many film industrywallahs as a journalist later hasn’t mattered much. But this felt more like a long forgotten childhood memory.

Was it perhaps because he was left alone in a room without much importance that day or was it because he spoke to me without any air of what he had been?

I vaguely remember telling him about my interest in music and he was more attentive after I told him I was not interested in playback for movies, I just sing because I enjoy it. He must have feigned interest but he said that way music will give me more pleasure if I didn’t turn it into a profession. Rest of the conversation is lost in my mind, but finally when a couple of guys remembered to take him to lunch, while getting escorted to the dining room, he turned back and raised two thumbs up to me (probably practicing his political style) and said ‘lagey raho’. Wow!

I remember telling mom about how pink he was. I also remember how wishfully she told me the first movie she ever watched was ‘Aan Milo Sajana’. Who knew there would be blogs and Facebook to share these experiences on in the future.

A career full of so much success, controversies, intrigue and a desperate media and social media means the RIP bandwagon is already on the roll.

Millions of girls in 60s and 70s would have fell over for those few minutes. Those moments were lost to a young girl of 90s. Had that been Shahrukh Khan…

The irony is, Rajesh Khanna knew his time was gone, and the disappointment lingered in his body language. No matter what kind of ups and downs he went through, he gets a very important chapter in the history of Hindi Cinema.

The repertoire of Rajesh Khanna’s songs is interestingly full of gems that feel like a fitting tribute to the man.

Anything I write beyond this will be repetitive or cheesy. I’m just going to let the songs of Anand take over…

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Thank you for the movies Nora Ephron

‘When Harry Met Sally’, ‘Sleepless in Seattle’, ‘You’ve Got Mail’, ‘Julie and Julia’… This is not just a list of favorite movies of 20 or 30 something girls anywhere with a cable connection or a DVD collection, this is also a successful part of writer, director and producer Nora Ephron’s filmography. She passed away today, and for some reason, people who are the source of timeless creations become immortal even when they are alive. Yet somehow they feel more valuable when they leave the world with a sense of loss.

This time the loss is to the now wider genre of RomCom. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Nora revolutionized or redefined the way Romantic Comedies are made and seen. Her characteristic wit reflects in each and every story she told. I’m not much familiar with her personal life and I’m not feeling like googling her just now. But I do remember reading her novel ‘Heartburn’, based on her second marriage and divorce with politician Carl Bernstein, it was not groundbreaking but it did have the making of the woman she was evolving to be.

Her romcoms show her readiness to explore every dimension of human relationship and make them entertaining. Her movies were sugarcoated, but then how many of us want to go on in life with bitterness in our mouths and minds?

Every time I feel sad over anything, I start a Nora Ephron home film festival, today, I’m going to do that for her.

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