Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Distance

Hotel Girish still wears the same look from outside. Except that it now has a new window that serves Udipi dishes in attractive plastic- wrapped take-away packs over the counter. A package of 30 rupees would now fetch you a Wada sambar and chutney with a soft drink of your choice. This is the brainchild of Anna’s son - a software engineer with an MBA. Just back from the US.
With ready-to-deploy offerings and object oriented approach to solve just about anything in life.

It was a lopsided deal between Father and Son that Anna would “oversee” from time to time, while Girish would “take charge”. A new section serving Chinese cuisine would be launched next month to tap the college crowd that flocks the restaurant in the evenings.

Girish is sure of his cost benefit analysis, Anna is sure of his age. Both have kept their doubts to themselves in perfect harmony.

It was here that they decided to catch up. She would be in India for a week. There was so much to share.....if only they had the time and inclination. Both seemed short of supply and from both ends, he believed.

He was there before time. As always. A diary of past rendezvous flickered before his eyes for a moment. Whether it was the rugged platform of Dombivli station, the latest film at Eros, a harried job interview at Seepz or a cup of masala tea at Hotel Girish, she was always a trifle late to make it.....but with her unmistakable smile to make up.

The thought brought a smile on his lips. He took his seat in the family room. During those days, there was no room for families. And in any case, they were not a family. Just a young pair filled with romance and starry-eyed ambition. They would first bicker with Raghu for the best seat, and then begin their own argument. And Raghu would shake his head in playful disdain placing the plain white teacups on the equally unadorned table made of cheap plastic.

And what sweltering arguments they had! He remembered the day he had really gone overboard, he now thought. And how she left in a rage. Leaving the Chutney Sandwich and the tea untouched.

But wasn’t his proposal far-fetched? To start out on their own...in the small shed near that stinking garage. A public urinal stands there now. At least, it serves its purpose now.

“Rebel code” she had laughed at the name of the proposed outfit. That was what irked him more than her negative inference. She left fuming, leaving the storm in the teacup.

All that rut over that fucking open source ….a movement that now left him stuck with his fabled principles. And a life only incidental.

But how mesmerizing it all appeared then. The barmy desire to be called a rebel. To make a difference at any cost. And that forceful contempt at the mundane “programmer” tribe- desperate for green cards and the predictable chain that followed it – flourishing careers, celebrated homecomings, pompous matrimonial ads, snobbish marriages and the goddamed pride of a foreign-exchange earner.

In sharp contrast, his “code rebel” group. The intellectual sessions on Apache, Linux, Perl, the anti-proprietary campaigns, the free software ideas…

....And to cheer the contempt for the “run-of-the-mill”, those violent meetings at beer bars, cigarette-fumed debates and then the ghastly resort to grass. And where was the fervour gone?

After all that hue and cry, he was only a programmer still…an aging programmer at that, programmed to survive, a non-billable burden for the firm, a member of the lowly “in-house project team”.

Following the futile chase of an elusive dream of a new-wave start-up of radical morals, he was still employed to serve a profit-conscious firm of the same commonplace tribe that he once loathed. And now he wrote inconsequential code for projects that unabashedly promoted the Microsofts and IBMs of the world.

He was surprised to see her wrapped so elegantly in a saree. Still the same smile. The face looked more radiant but the gestures were familiar. As if it was another meeting at Girish plucked out of the past. But there was no Raghu to acknowledge their past. Wonder where’s he now?

He was unsure about her choice for the day and half-expected a fussy denial.... one stamped with US-returned credentials. But he was wrong. She picked up the laminated menu card and placed the order herself.

Idli sambar arrived followed by cold coffee. And then the nostalgia. There was so much for a hearty laugh. The Dombivli chawl, pestering neighbors, Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla, packed suburban trains, failed job interviews, messy projects with killing deadlines, the clumsy kiss in the packed Eros theatre, besan laddoos in her tiffin; all for him… and of course, the treasure of memories locked in Hotel Girish.

She remembered every single detail, with the passion of an author who breathes the entire script of his novel, however discarded it may have been. He could read the pathos of their story in her eyes, her gestures, her sighs as also her smiles.

They went on and on, till it was dark. Dark enough to curl back in the beam of their respective lives. She got up, and he could see her eyes were moist. So much had changed around them and yet nothing had changed between them. They were still the same.

She was now head of the Grid computing division of her firm, she told him drawing a family snap out of her leather purse. A happy family against the backdrop of the scenic Disney land. Her family. Her land.

He stared at the road on which her cabbie whizzed past. She was on her way to her world and yet she had left her warmth behind. Distinct it was, even in the sultry weather.

As he turned to leave, he bumped into Anna. The old fellow was in a jovial mood, watching the proceedings of the place that he had built - brick by brick. From a distance.

Distance! Yes, was it not the hint…the distance?

He could see it all from there – his bliss in her well-being, the thrill - not the pride - of his off-beat ideals, the chord that still held them together...the love that bloomed on parallel tracks.

Much like Anna’s devotion to his hotel. Amidst his son’s rapid strides, the youthful crowd, Chinese cuisine and the soft drinks.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Blogger's Park

Sudhir Raikar jogs around three celebrity blog tracks only to be led on a delightful trail of the Big B’s illustrious footmarks – his big strides in a new territory.
Many years back, he changed the face of Indian mainstream cinema – running it virtually like a one-man industry. Some time back, he engineered a paradigm shift in television viewing with the inspired-but-innovative game show Kaun Banega Crorepati. And now, he’s busy lending a deeper meaning to the medium of the times – Blogging.
That celebrities have taken to blogging in a big way is common news. But superstar Amitabh Bachchan has proved again that whatever is worth the while, he does it in style.
Of the 75 days of incessant blogging till date, he has maintained a very high quality of introspection in what is essentially an online diary interspersed with nostalgic expression – words that often take the form of stream of consciousness writing.
Apart from his trademark humility, chaste language and powerful idiom, he is open in his admiration for the web and the young generation – free of inhibitions and hang-ups, aiming to soar high on the wings of opportunities.
Day in and day out, he offers a perceptive window into his life – that attracts die-hard fans, bitter critics and observant readers in equal measure. And once in a while, he lashes out at his detractors – members of the media and fans alike – in a matter-of-fact language. What’s commendable is his consistency and poise in sifting through the countless posts from the world over – some with blatant abuses, others with blind admiration and many with unsolicited words of advice.
At the ripe age of 66, the man is studying the world around him with the eyes of a keen student. His inklings leave his readers wondering – is he the super star of main stream cinema or a literary genius. In religiously keeping his tryst with the blog, Bachchan has truly recognized the real power of the web as a non-intrusive but potent medium. A bridge that gets him closer to his audience sans the middlemen (getting around the filter, as they say), a divide that still keeps safe distance from absurd attacks and a tailored platform to lock horns with his detractors, each time he finds his personal space encroached.
If one compares his blog with two of his well-known counterparts and fellow bloggers, the big difference stands out, tall like him.
Star-actor Aamir Khan, who probably unveiled his web space ahead of Bachchan, was an enthusiastic blogger to begin with. In a few posts, he did attempt to discuss a variety of holistic issues within and outside the celluloid frame. With the passage of time, however, his blog has been reduced to a “Now Showing Coming Soon” Notice Board. A haven for the overflowing love-you-miss-you posts, it leaves very little for meaningful interaction with the public at large. To make matters worse, his infamous “Farm House Dog” post also did not augur well for his well meaning fans.
Director Ram Gopal Verma has gone about his web mission in characteristic sharp shooter style. His thoughts on cinema are highly perceptive, so is his commentary on the several factors that contribute to the process of movie making. His take on the mindless critic tribe is equally enlightening. In exposing the intellectual poverty of each target, he even cites their pet brand statements, replete in their mechanical critiques.
What’s however not web friendly is his discourteous stance that he projects like a jewel. For a medium as participatory as the web log, this one-way traffic is adverse, if not fatal.
Blogging is personal, no doubt, and there’s nothing prescriptive about it. But the disciplined manner in which Bachchan has approached the medium is indeed food for thought for just about everyone who sees the web as a medium of expression, not just the film fraternity.
The Personal web log, or blog as it’s commonly referred to, has a recent history. Used as a noun as well as a verb, this magical term was coined in 1997 by the charismatic American Jorn Barger – who embraced computers, literature and philosophy in the same breath. The popular term “Blog” was the brainchild of the equally versatile information architect Peter Merholz. In the 11 years of its young existence, blogging has grown rapidly to bloom into a potent social medium for interaction, reflective writing in particular.

That Amitabh Bachchan is one of its ardent fans spells great news for a generation of netizens who stumble upon web pages more than they bump into each other. And for the highly mollycoddled recluse tribe, the so-called IT experts, which is oblivious of the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web, here’s a towering inspiration!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Director’s Cut

Director Satish Rajwade’s sudden exit from the popular Marathi TV serial “Asambhav” has deprived a good story of its great story teller. Sudhir Raikar spoke to the unassuming talent whose innovative style statement in editing and direction marks a new chapter in Marathi entertainment.
At 34, Satish Rajwade wears the reassuring smile of a seasoned professional. He’s unassuming to the core, unfazed by success and controversies but ask him about his trade and the conviction comes alive in his gleaming eyes. “I love my work. Whatever little I have achieved till date has been the result of my unflinching devotion to my work. Nothing else matters”
Rajwade’s arrival in the entertainment industry seemed destined in an unlikely way, ever since he participated in an acting workshop in suburban Ville Parle as a kid of 12. School and college years were replete with awards and mementos that recognized his acting skills.
“I joined the commerce stream of Mithibai College only for its conducive theatre environment. Thanks to my passion, I acted in over 158 one-act plays in English, Hindi, Marathi and Gujarathi” He reveals.
His first tryst with success came in the form of the Marathi play “All the best” where his co-artiste was class mate Shreyas Talpade, long before the latter stuck gold in tinsel town. “It was director Mahesh Manjrekar, my mentor and well wisher, who was instrumental in offering me the Hindi version of “All the best”. The Marathi version followed, for a good 890 shows.”
During one of these shows, Rajwade won the attention of director Govind Nihalani’s crew. Before he knew, he bagged a role in Nihalani’s offbeat film “Sanshodhan” alongside the likes of Manoj Vajpayee. This was followed by two-bit roles in “Hazaar Chourasi ki Maa” and Manjrekar’s “Vastaav” and “Nidaan”. The association with Nihalani introduced Rajwade to the world of film editing and he found his purpose, waiting for him at the cross roads.
“I suddenly realized this is where the actual film happens. The sheer thrill ignited my passion and I began learning the ropes, assisting Nihalani as a trainee editor sans stipend and conveyance”
This marked the second innings of Rajwade – as a director. His debut happened through a music album “Na Jaane Kyun” starring model Samir Dharmadhikari. The album was well received and the producers, happy with the unexpected success, urged Rajwade to direct a Hindi film.
“I suggested a cost effective route in the form of a Marathi film – such that if it bombed, the loss, like the profit, would be lower. This argument got the buy-in and work on “Mrigjal” began.” But the cakewalk ended there.
Rajwade never realized “Mrigjal” could be such a litmus test of his tenacity. At the eleventh hour, he found his prospective screen play writers shying away. “In the heat of the moment, I wrote the story myself. If this was not enough, my cameraman did a vanishing act – I had to pull my personal contacts to rope in Suhas Gujarathi at the last minute”
Even as Rajwade took things in his stride with bated breath, “Mrigjal” bagged 23 awards including story, screenplay and cinematography – all products of accidental afterthought. This was the first grand proof of Rajwade’s genius.
“Mrigjal” won critical acclaim for Rajwade but the offers that followed were not heartening. They came either from fly-by-night operators trying to make hay or from one-time directors looking to utilize government grants, employing shoe-string budgets only to fill their pockets. Rajwade chose to stay away, at the cost of being without work for a substantial time. “It was my family that saw me through these difficult times. I owe my success to them”
Zee TV played his savior too, offering him serials like “Duniyadari” and “Oon Pawus”. Then “Asambhav” happened. And the rest is history.
Rarely has any Marathi serial won worldwide attention for the quality of its production. It was Rajwade’s astute direction and debutant Chinmay Mandlekar’s dialogues that has made “Asambhav” such a huge hit, even among non-maharashtrian households. For an audience nauseating in the overdose of mindless melodrama, “Asambhav” proved a breather. In a record achievement, it bagged five awards at the 33rd Radio and Television Advertising Practitioners’ Association of India (RAPA) awards function. The serial won Rajwade celebrity fans including the veteran composer Pyarelal of Laxmikant-Pyarelal fame who called him to his residence to congratulate him.
The story deals with the controversial and tabooed theme of rebirth but thanks to Rajwade’s treatment, the story is an entertaining mix of tradition and innovation. On one hand, it upholds traditional values seeped in religious thought. On the other, it questions beliefs and dogmas. In exploring the abnormal, normal and the paranormal, all in the same breath, it does not make any exclusive claims to truth.
Rajwade intersperses a dark sinister look of a racy whodunit plot and a sober family drama with amazing flair and authority. The serial does lose its rhythm at times, led by a wayward storyline and some mediocre players, but few enduring performances – notably that of Sharvari Patankar (Priya), Sagar Talashilkar (Chandu), Kishore Kadam (Saranjame), Chinmay Mandlekar (Abhimaan), Rajwade himself (Inspector Bhonsale) and to some extent, Anand Abhyankar (Dinanath Shastri) - are of such high quality that they unknowingly raise the bar for Marathi television, otherwise known for its shallow production values.
In a recent development, Rajwade has chosen to part ways with the team, close on the heels of Mandlekar’s exit. He asserts his reasons are purely personal and do not stem from any hostile difference of opinion with the producers, as media reports blatantly conclude. Though emotional, he is not bitter in the aftermath of the separation.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed the “Asambhav” experience and I am indebted to Nikhil Sane of Zee Marathi for this wonderful opportunity. I also thank my well wishers and the audience from the world over who have appreciated my work” he acknowledges.
His admirers want him back as the captain of the “Asambhav” ship and they have formed fan clubs on social networking sites like Orkut, urging the producers to call back their “director” hero.
For Rajwade however, this exit, though painful, is not a full stop. He is busy on some interesting projects and chooses to look ahead. One of his much-talked about Hindi venture was “Akhand” – a story set in pre-independent India that was to cast super star Akshay Kumar in a negative role, besides Abhishek Bachchan and Suneil Shetty in pivotal roles. “Unfortunately, the project had to be shelved. But the subject being so close to my heart, I hope to revive it soon. I keep my fingers crossed”
“Akhand” or no “Akhand”, “Asambhav” or no “Asambhav”, Satish Rajwade has arrived. A director by choice, he has no qualms about sacrificing the fine actor in him. In the process, he brings with him such finesse which would make the stalwarts proud.