Archive for April, 2009

Quicker, shorter, better

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

Apr 19, 2009

One more IPL. The WWF of cricket, except that it’s not fixed (hopefully). The equivalent of a soccer game reduced to five penalty kicks for each side. But what the hell, it’s good timepass. The first time around, I was initially a sceptic, but was converted in just a few days. Above all, it solves that very important—in fact fundamental-to-life question: What do I watch on TV tonight? Relationships have broken up over this dispute. IPL is the cricket that women with zero interest in the game, women who view their partners’ obsession with cricket as a serious character flaw, women who think they are competing with cricket for their loved men’s love—yes, IPL, even they can see and enjoy, or at least feel mildly indulgent about the goggle-eyed cheering and cursing fool who’s sitting next to her. Yuvraj Singh hitting six sixes off six balls—that, anyone can get. No rocket science. You don’t have to endure your man’s paeans to the perfect forward defensive push of Rahul Dravid, or explanations of elbows high, bat and pad together, head still, and the difference between long leg and deep fine leg and all that crap.

PL. W.G. Grace must be spinning in his grave. Could that imperious gentleman with the bushiest beard in history have ever imagined that such crassness could be imposed on this noble game? Neville Cardus, if he had been alive, would surely have gone looking for a firm ceiling fan and a sturdy rope. Though I think a Ranjitsinghji or a Keith Miller would have enjoyed it. This is cricket stripped of all frills, down to a gut-level gully-level game that all Indian men have played as boys. The rules are so simple that an infant can get it. This is cricket for the non-thinking man, cricket shorn of all history, indeed cocking a snook at all history. This is cricket for the bad boys, the backbenchers.

And it just doesn’t matter who wins a game, other than to the team’s owners and sponsors. An IPL game instantly turns your TV room into the Colisseum and you into a vicarious sadist. You want the players to either perform extraordinary feats or make total fools of themselves. There’s no in-between, no scope for the average or the moderate. It’s stirring triumph or pathetic humiliation. No space for sympathy or pity. It is cricket as extreme sports.

We all grew up playing T20, in our colonies, on our roads, and for the fortunate few, in our parks and fields. We challenged the next building’s team, and with them, we had home games and away games. We had a bowler who could bowl a special delivery that would get the batsman run out. When things were not going our way, we ended the match by saying: “Fielding declared.” Our hook shots broke windows and we ran for our lives. We played on concrete or asphalt roads and yet we dived to save a boundary or take a catch and we bled. IPL, for me, brings back those memories, the child who lives somewhere within us. I have seen women who have never watched cricket in their lives and who have seen Sachin Tendulkar only in TV commercials, shriek and scream watching a T20 match.

Is it good for cricket? A friend of mine has the unusual viewpoint that T20 will eventually kill the 50-50 game and there will be only two types of cricket left, the five-day game and the T20. There will be the premium audience who will enjoy the classicism of test cricket and there will be the masses hunting for an adrenaline rush. The 50-50 game will fall between the stools, something trying to please everyone and losing focus.

Whatever happens, T20 will definitely affect the other forms of the game. Over the last 20 years, the surfeit of one-day games has ensured that batsmen score quicker in test matches and there are less draws. All sorts of unorthodox shots invented in the one-day game, like the reverse sweep, have now become common in test matches. T20 too has forced batsmen to turn their backs on the cricket manual and extemporise strokes that no one thought of before, other than in their childhood neighbourhood games. These will now find their way inevitably into longer forms of the game. Over time, the pace of cricket in one-dayers and test matches will definitely become faster. T20 will change the game, and it will be, I think, for the better.

A Hindi film that hits you hard

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Apr 05, 2009

Gulaal is an extraordinary and overpowering film. I watched it a fortnight ago, and I watched it again ten days ago, and it has stayed with me, can’t seem to get over it. This year has been a good year so far for Hindi films, or at least for the slightly adventurous Hindi film viewer: Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, then Dev.D, then Gulaal. If you haven’t seen any of these films, I would suggest that you watch them in this order: Dev.D first, Lucky next, and finally Gulaal.

At the risk of huge generalisation and pomposity, let me posit this: There are two types of good films. One, a film where, as you watch, you admire the directorial thought has gone into it. You are not really emotionally engaged with what the characters in the film are going through, but every moment you admire the presentation and the craft. Examples: Maqbool and Omkara made by Vishal Bharadwaj. You love the intelligence and expertise that have gone into it, but you don’t get dewey-eyed about the travails of the lead characters, even though it’s Macbeth and Othello (especially Othello). The other type of film is immersive: you feel and crave for (or hate) the people you are seeing on screen, and when you come out of the hall, you have had either a cathartic experience or a very satisfying meal. You have not noticed the emotional manipulation you have been through, or you don’t care, you have had your money’s worth. I don’t want to mention any specific example of this type of film-viewing experience, because the line here stretches from Karan Johar to Eisenstein, so let’s just say this would typify classic Hollywood films, from Hitchcock to Spielberg.

OK, this is high praise, but Gulaal hits you at both levels. It gets you at gut level and you come out marveling at the amount of thought and detail that has gone into it. And a second viewing gives you more detail, more thought. After all, you are dealing with a film, which, in addition to everything else, is giving you all sorts of throwaway stuff which it doesn’t expect most of you to notice, like the brand names of all the booze that the characters drink. And the lyrics. The lyrics. A very strange thing to say for a man who is not very good at either Hindi or Urdu, and has never paid any attention to the words in a song (I mean, who gives a damn for lyrics, for god’s sake!), but these lyrics get you by the crotch. A nautch girl in a small town in Rajasthan sings to drunk louts in a haveli: “Jaise door des ke tower mein ghus jaaye re aeroplane” (The way aeroplanes flew into towers in a far-away country). She follows it up with: “Jaise sare aam Iraq mein jaake jam gaye Uncle Sam” (The way Uncle Sam shamelessly settled in Iraq). The lyrics of the songs in Gulaal, especially the closing song, as the (for the lack of a better word) protagonist stumbles back home after being shot—Oh ri Duniya, oh ri Duniya, aye duniya/Aye surmayee aankhein ke pyaalo ki duniya (I won’t even attempt to translate this)—can give you gooseflesh.

This is Hindi cinema at its best, and I say Hindi cinema, because Gulaal follows the unique tradition of the Bombay film industry of having songs at the drop of a hat. Only in this case, the hat is weighty and the sound is a thud. It is a film which perhaps will not make much money. I had gone to the loo during the interval when I watched it the first time, and I heard people asking one another: “Yaar, what’s the story?” In fact, the story is powerful and tightly plotted, but it’s so different from anything that you’ve seen in a Hindi film before that it is possible you could be flummoxed for a while.

I have never met the film’s director Anurag Kashyap, or Piyush Mishra, who has acted in the film, and written the lyrics and scored the music, so I have no vested interest in doing this big plug for this small film. But this is a film that is a rare mix of intense passion and high intellect. You are emotionally imprisoned as you watch, and when you walk out of the hall, you replay it in your head and analyse and brood. It is assured of a cult following, but it deserves more than that. Watch it, your money won’t be wasted. And you can save some cash too: you needn’t buy the popcorn, this is not a popcorn movie.