The full stop of choice

The film "Sukhaant" brings up the controverisal theme of Euthanasia (mercy killing) arguably for the first time in Indian cinema. That it's a Marathi film speaks volumes about the recent new wave in an industry dominated by gawdy sterotypes.

Sukhaant is the story of Seetabai Gunje (Jyoti Chandekar) - a dignified lady who faces the challenge life throws at her with great resolve. Disowned by her promiscious husband, she's left to fend for herself and her little son. Plunging herself in the ocean of hard labour, she eventually builds a small-scale industry helping women like her stand on their feet.

Her son Pratap becomes a successful lawyer, blessed with a happy family of wife and kid. Just when life seems hunky dory, a road accident leaves Seetabai paralysed beyond cure.

Thus begins the heart-wrenching second innings of her life as a helpless patient - dependant on support for everything. She tries hard to defy her fate only to see through the futility of the whole exercise. And the fact that her loved ones offer unconditional support does not condone her misery in any way.

Her family tries in vain to infuse hope into her tattered soul but all that she yearns for is a full stop. This causes a pandemonium spree in the house till the merit of her plea finally dawns on the son.

Now, the mother-son duo fight a legal battle seeking wilful death to end her bedridden agony. The court obviously rejects the plea and the son finally takes the law in his hands to engineer an end of her choice.

The cast and crew collectively contribute to Sukhaant's larger cause but the film clearly belongs to two individuals - Kiran Yagnopavit for the brilliant script, screenplay and dialogues and Jyoti Chandekar for her amazing portrayal as the lead player.

She builds a strong case for the protagonist she plays - the initial semblance of hope, the gradual withdrawal, the loud protest, and the mute ultimatum...her face highlights the agony of a lady fighting for her right to dignified life (and death) with flair. Seetabai's staple tongue-in-cheek temperament turns lethal
as her mental state deteriorates - Chandekar has shown this transition in a performance rarely seen on celluloid.

Having said that, the film's end is far from convincing. The son's fatal act of the last scene is akin to a Abbas-Mastan thriller - a feat next to impossible in any hospital engaged in the endeavour of treating patients. The film could have looked at better ways of conveying its message at large - reinforcing the court's verdict denying the legality of ethunasia is a great idea to stimulate public attention but does it have to come against an exaggerated backdrop?

The hostile wrath that the son invites from the folks of his native place looks far-fetched. The outburst of Pratap's wife over a soured bed session seems only hurried - the director does not bother to project the build-up for her rage. Her perplexment over two contrasting emotions - sensitivity to the husband's love for his ailing mother and awareness of her own life space - deserved a better cinematic treatment.

Atul Kulkarni is impressive as always but falls short of the benchmark he has set for himself. The dejected look after the final act, his wailing confession to the wife and the desolate strides towards the police station in the last frame - all gestures come about loud and unreal - unlike the Kulkarni of Devrai or Vaastupurush fame that we know.

Kavita Medhekar underlines her role with sincerity but clearly struggles to unearth the finer aspects lurking between the lines... Her expression is subdued when it comes to delivering the pain of her penanace - as a wife who's taken for granted in a mother-son relationship.

Few other flaws dilute the film's appeal - the accident that cripples the protagonist for life causes no dent to the car at the point of impact....worse, the same car is overtly projected throughout the film, to the extent, it seems part of the cast.

A frame showing the lawyer son surrounded by media shows a junior artiste (playing a TV journalist) herself staring at the film's camera - and that this scene is repeated only adds to the embarassment.

It's high time filmmakers paid more attention to the marginal players as well - the nurse with the strong and nasueatingly comic South Indian accent, the poker-faced doctor calling for a CT Scan (as if it were a drill) and the synthetic mixed bag of mob reaction following the case winning media attention - these are serious flaws that are invariably ignored in our cinema as glitches.

The film scores very high for the sincere attempt to tackle a subject under wraps despite being the agony of several households. Kudos to the entire team for the effort.

And hope Chandekar and Yagnopavit bag few well-deserved awards this season.

Taken over by Overtaking

Driving on Indian roads is nothing short of a penance...but only for those who carry the burden of road safety on their shoulders. For the rest, it's a reckless voyage of narcissistic aggression.

The worst form of this incurable hostility comes in the form of overtaking a vehicle at any cost, as if your very life depended on it. The desperation hardly needs a reason, it's more to do with the predatory instinct of ruling the world. And once you're bitten by this bug, you have no friend, no colleague, no associate and no acquaintance.

And contrary to popular opinion, truck drivers alone are not the only exponents of this malpractice. Our so-called decent city-dwellers abuse the law in equal measure.

A case in point is the situation when you are being ovetaken from the left.

Let's first look at what the law states :

a) The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left thereof at a safe distance and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle.

b) Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle on audible signal and shall not increase the speed of his vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.

Now imagine you are speeding on the right side of the slow down in anticipation of the traffic some distance ahead. Pat comes a car from your left, speeding to glory, in a desperate attempt to overtake you... for the sake of overtaking.

Road safety in this case solely depends on the maganimity of the driver forced to implement "b" to mitigate the risk caused by the driver abusing "a" - and how does the driver abuse "a" - by first brushing past your car and then unabashedly claiming the right side, forcing the driver behind to slow down his vehicle to accomodate the VIP ahead.

And the gestures that follow when cautioned by the driver behind are best left unsaid. Mind you, they will throw caution to the winds but you can't even throw an admonishing glance at them.

The root cause of this desperation can't be identified, it can only be traced to the psyche of a person.

Watching a vehicle safely speeding ahead, dexterously making way through the maze of traffic, can prove annoying for some - the pent up anger explodes at boiling point untill one is fully consumed by rage - finally charging from the left in the insane attempt to leave you behind.

Little does one realize what's one leaving behind - a glimpse of
the predator masquerading as a preacher. And many bitter memories!

PS: That many such nightmares have helped me design a Defensive Driving course for motor training schools is the only good part of the whole experience.

Natural remedies for synthetic disorders

Raju Parulekar - whoever he is - deserves sympathy and a lot of rest. Maybe, he can take a few days off, head for a dense forest of his choice and come back wiser.

Well, before you suffer his inventive and insightful gems in the piece

only to dismiss the genius naturally, let me introduce him.

Mr. Parulekar loves nature. For him, a farmer toiling in the field is a better sight than Sachin in action on the field. As mentioned earlier, he loves only natural things - organic at that. He finds the game of cricket "synthetic". Cricket and Sachin find no place in his book of history as both are about temporary milestones - not about such enduring, life-saving feats attributed to doctors, scientists, farmers, social activists and historians.

He's read Edward Gibbon's "Decline and fall of the Roman Empire" . (Thundering applause please!) He has studied the movie "Gladiator" in great depth to be able to put sport in perspective - as a royal pastime that was later thrown open to the public at large to pale the larger issues of life into significance. Sachin, for our dear Parulekar, is a Gladiator at the disposal of hungry politicians - designed to dissuade the public from the larger issues. A virtual reality, an opium! Move over, Mr. Karl Marx, cricket, Sachin in particular, is the new opium, not religion as you had once proclaimed.

Coming back to our friend, his confusion over his own views is confusing. On one hand,cricket is alien to him; on the other, he's keen to advertise his authority on Indian cricket - he certifies Sachin as a great player (mind you, not an acknowledgement but a certification) before pointing out how Sachin proved a miserable captain and how Ganguly is a better Gladiator than Sachin..Why?...Since the Bengal Tiger treats the regional press and language with great respect. Sachin, on the other hand, loves his international status at the cost of shunning his roots. What an analysis....Ask a kid in your neighbourhood and he would know better, Mr. Parulekar!

While you declare Sachin's 20-year landmark as insignificant, you remind us of a momentous milestone due next year - 20 YEARS OF YOUR OWN CAREER. You also lament at the fact that this achievement-in-the-making is unsung and unhonoured

Mr. Parulekar, it's good to note that you're not a cricket enthusiast, no harm done. We agree that the game is no longer played with noble intentions, we agree that the Sharad Pawars, Rajeev Shulkas and the Nirnajan Shahs of the world are some of the disgusting parasites prospering on the game's prospects and we also agree that Sachin mints millions on his milestones - but how does all of this reflect on his stature as an outstanding cricketer and a true gentleman. And the fact that he donates a larger share to unsung charity is only besides the point, he doesn't owe an explaination - at least not to you...

Dear Parulekar, achievements in sports and entertainment cannot be compared to the advancements in science and medicine. These are two factes that ensure the much needed work-life balance for us. Talking of entertainment, you're an entertainer in your own right..we mean it! Your comic article was real funny- it managed to keep us in spilts....

You suffer from a peculiar disorder Sir! - An ailment that paralyzes common sense and numbs the intellect with recurring attacks of self-love. Thankfully, there's no dearth of natural herbs in the forests of India - get treated quickly and naturally. And as a health supplement, watch vintage Sachin in action. Recovery would be that much faster. Slowly and surely, all your synthetic waste will fall off and you'll naturally find better ways to earn fame.

Who knows, you may even get the inspiration to become a better journalist - and if you achieve this feat, it would indeed be yeoman service to the nation since we don't have many at the moment.

The Mumbai Indian

Sachin Tendulkar is a man of few words. But he does have a way with them. Precisely why he leaves no stone unturned to "convert every stone into a milestone". The other day, he made yet another effortless and elegant statement - just like his spectacular straight drive

"Yes, I am a proud Mumbaikar but I am an Indian first"

That was a lesson to all those who unabashedly unfurl the parochical flag in the name of belonglingness. And mind you, this is not just about Raj Thackeray and his Nav Nirmaan Sena. There are scores among us who swell with regional pride in day-to-day life - and ironically, feel they are serving some larger cause in doing so.

Yes, there's a lot of communal dictatorship in other states that invariably goes unnoticed. This is not to condone the real issues affecting the state of Maharashtra and Mumbai. But chanting the Marathi mantra is far from a solution.

Raj projects Maharashtrians as one united force -

Is he not aware of the big divide that exists between Maharashtrians themselves - And contrary to the popular notion, Koknastha Brahmins are not the only victims of this incurable disorder of vanity. Every other tribe has been consumed by this epidemic - whether Pathare Prabhus, CKPs, Bhandaris, Saraswats, GSBs, Marathas, Karwaris, Vaishya Vanis, Agaris...the list is endless.

All love to look down upon the rest with venomous disdain - and again, let's not conveniently blame the illiterate, orthodox and the rural alone. Our highly educated, cultured globe-trotting folks from the so-called dynamic professions like media, finance and IT are no less fanatic about their parochial ethos - who otherwise claim to be very progressive and magnanimous in life.

Sachin Tendulkar had the easier option to play to the gallery - to sing umpteen praises of his Maharashtrian roots and advertise his success as a "Marathi Manoos" success story. That he rose above narrow sentiments to salute the tri-colour explains why he stands tall as a human being, not just as a cricketing genius.

We see scores of people around us - all self-appointed authorities on cricket, who blow their giant-sized trumpets at the first given opportunity... even representing a small-town cricket team is nothing short of Wisden success for them.

And here, we have a truly international icon - sanctified by none other than the Late Sir Don - who remains unaffected by the aura that surrounds him...who simply takes face the next delivery!

Hats off to the Little Master - the true Mumbai Indian.

One state, many worlds

Tag lines of government-run initiatives are rarely catchy. Karnataka Tourism is a great exception. One state, many worlds - it says and rightly so.

The state indeed houses exquisite worlds - of scenic coastal areas, green hilly regions, breathtaking ghats and fascinating plains. And each place is flavoured in the influence of the bordering state. Belgaum and Dharwad smack of Maharashtrian culture, Hampi and Bijapur reflect Hyderabadi etiquette while Udupi and Mangalore bear a strong Kerela influence.

Thanks to my stars, my work recently took me to Belgaum in Karnataka. As is my wont, I took this opportunity to tread on some of the long, winding routes that city-bred tourists would usually avoid. The thrill of such mad explorations is beyond words. And to give me company in my priceless Maruti 800 were my wife and kiddo - both avid travellers like me.

Day 1

We left two days prior to my corporate acting workshop at Belgaum - the plan was to lose ourselves in the captivating folds of the state before I worked in the shop.

We took the comfortable but expensive NH 4 (the tolls cost Rs 350/- from Thane to Hubli) I briefly checked the arrangements at Hotel Eefa in Belgaum at around 12.00 before proceeding further on the NH4.

We reached Hubli at 2 pm. The road ahead to Chitardurga was nothing short of a nightmare - we passed Haveri, Davangere, Harihar - finding our way through countless diversions, dangerous potholes and dusty pathways. Called the city of stones, Chitradurga today lives up to its name for the wrong reasons. Save for the majestic fort and artistic temples, the town life seems quite bland. The vivacity of coastal Karnataka is sorely missing.

It was 6.30 pm by the time we reached Hotel Aishwarya Fort in Chitradurga. The hotel seemed great on the website. ("top and top" - remarked one innocent pedestrian on the way when we enquired)

Reality was different, if not opposite. The hotel does roaring business only because it's the best in Chitradurga- the rooms are clean, service is passable, toilets are bearable and the food is edible...But the zing is clearly amiss. We spent the night there simply because we had no choice.

Day 2

We left the hotel at 6.00 am and embarked upon a journey that was filled with adventure. The destination was the Annapoorneshwari temple in Alangar near Moodbidri but the route was not choice.

The shortest route is on NH 17, the next best is NH4 till Hubli, NH63 till Ankola and NH 17 for the last leg. We have been several times on both the routes but this one was the craziest... NH 4 till Chitradurga and then NH 13 till Karkala..a jounney spanning 9 hours on an average.

The road till Shimoga (Shivamoga - Lord Shiva's face) was great, save for the last 10km which was horrendous. It was 9.00 am by now. Thanks to the prompt advice of a smart young man sipping tea at a junction, we took the Tirthalli - Agumbe - Karkala route.

At Karkala, we almost lost our way. This time, a happy family resting in the garden of their scenic bunglow came to our rescue. The drive ahead was a mixed bag of smooth tar roads and potholed pathways - it was 1.30 pm by the time we reached Alangar at Hosanadu.

The Annapoorneshwari temple was divine as ever - with the majestic 61 feet Hanuman near the Gopuram...a picture of health and humility. After the darshan, we had food at the temple - simple and wholesome food of boiled rice, sambar, a vegetable and payasam.

We resumed our journey - this time to Udupi - to the comfortable Paradise Isle at Malpe Beach. The time was 5.00 pm when we checked in. The rest of the evening was spent at the beach and the hotel's exquisite bar. This was Sachin Tendulkar's day of the immortal chase - we caught few glimpses of the little master in action in our suite.

At the bar, I met one Mr. Dayanad Shetty, manager of the hotel and a resident of Bhayendar, a congested place in suburban Mumbai. He was enjoying the sleepy idyllic life of Malpe but was clearly missing the big city.

Day 3

We took the wheel at 4.00 am - on NH 17, stopping for breakfast at Bhatkal. It was 9.00 am at Ankola and by the time we reached Dharwad via NH 63, the time was 12.00. I was now showing signs of fatigue - having driven for long streches for two consecutive days. We reached the cosy, plush business hotel called Eefa at 1.30 pm. After a delicious biryani, I dozed off till 5 pm.

The workshop on corporate acting skills began at 6.00 pm and went on till 9.00 pm. By the grace of God, all went well and we called it a day at 10 pm.

Day 4

We began at 4.00 am. The hotel had graciously packed an elaborate breakfast for us. The journey homewards was kind of boring. We stopped at Karad for tea, enjoyed the packed breakfast under a tree near Satara and had few snacks on the expressway.

We were home at 1.30 pm, having completed a memorable journey in less than four days flat. We are indebted to the scores of kind souls in remote places who helped us with such route maps, milestones and landmarks that Google search would never deliver. Their faces reflect diverse emotions even as they surge forward to help you with the directions - amusement at having encountered unlikely off-season tourists, concern in designing the best route and good wishes for safe and sound travel.

We salute their sensitive nature, unadulterated ways and zest for of the nauseating obsession that some of our friends back home swear by...obsession with swanky cars, plush flats, home theaters, shopping mall goodies, expensive cell phones....just about everything that comes branded in life!

PS: NH 4, NH 17, NH 13, NH 63 - all have suffered the wrath of erratic monsoons. Repair work is in full swing but it would take two months to complete the mammoth work as it's painfully manual.

2010 should bring in some cheer on this front.

Untill the next trip...