10 November, 2012

Skyfall : Large shoes to step into…Ably filled

50 years & going strong

Cubby Broccoli
If Ian Fleming is to be called the father of James Bond then without a doubt Albert “Cubby “Broccoli would be his mother. 

The former created the eponymous secret agent on paper while the latter nurtured and grew him on the celluloid with much love and care, that it is now fifty years completed to the most successful film franchise in the history of cinema.

Why has the franchise survived?

Ian Fleming
The character created by Ian Fleming as secret agent of MI6 had everything going which appealed to the  cold war generation and some for the generations to follow. Bond had good lines, traveled to exotic places, made love to gorgeous women who always seem available to him, Bond had zany toys: Guns, Cars and other deadly gizmo’s strapped on to wrists, tucked into ankles and folds,and what-not-places.  He had a license to kill and he always got his villain ( so larger than life that the villains had their own fan followings) and escaped with his girl. It was the stuff of male testosterone fantasies and the Bond actors themselves appealed to the women. The books of Fleming were essentially a male read but the films of Cubby Broccoli were age & gender neutral appealing to all. The books are relegated to the background today but the films have made James Bond immortal.

The Changing Bond :

Over the years many characters have played Bond thus giving him a physical form and shape from Sean Connery (6 films), George Lazenby (1 film), Roger Moore (7 films), Timothy Dalton (2 films), Pierce Brosnan (4 films) to Daniel Craig (3 films) now. Connery and Moore were the originals and older purists still argue over who played him better. George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton did not leave a mark and were quickly replaced. Connery, the first Bond, brought to the character a sturdy physical presence with his Scottish charm. Moore the elegant Bond had the best lines and introduced into the character a sense of humour. But essentially the character over the first 16 films remained two dimensional and true to the books. It was with Pierce Brosnan arguably one of the best Bonds, that  dimensions to the character started getting added. A woman, Judi Dench became M and the franchise started looking exciting once more. Brosnan was blue steel and his classical good looks had him slip into the shoes of Roger Moore to perfection and make them his own. After four films he moved on and Daniel Craig took over. As far as  looks went he was not the most exciting prospect, he did not speak much; humour was left to the ladies ( Bond girls ), but his was a raw physical presence so also he brought a brooding intensity to the character and Connery’s shoes left vacant for long found a worthy successor. The actor has added dimensions to the character. Here one cant help but compare the difference that Chris Nolan made to the Batman Franchise by changing it forever. Daniel Craig and now Sam Mendes have done the same with Skyfall…the Chrysalis has begun and the change is irreversible.

SKYFALL : The Movie a review

This may be the first Bond film where the directors name may consume equal newsprint & bytes as Bond himself. Yes…“Skyfall”, is a James Bond Film but also equally importantly "Skyfall" is a Sam Mendes film , such is the impact he leaves on this work. It takes a brave director to get into the worlds favourite film hero and attempt to impact his environment differently forever.

Mendes achieves this with a cunning that makes for a beautiful film. This movie has more undercurrents than any other Bond film so far. It has its spectacular chases across crowded streets, bazaars and rooftops of Turkey jumping from bridge to train one of the most physically awesome opening sequence since Craigs own high energy parkour stunt in “Casino Royale”. It is after that chase that the movie expands into a new dimension. Bond chasing an assassin who has lifted a hard disk containing the names of all “good guy undercover agents” of the world gets shot from top of a train. He survives but loses his nerve. Presumed dead, Agent down, M-Judi Dench even writes an obituary. The movies shifts to bad guy Silva-Javier Bardem, relentless, charming and utterly evil who has acquired the disc to settle scores with M. He had been one of her best agents till he went rogue. This relationship between Silva & M and M & Bond is the fulcrum of the film and James Bond is the executing pivot. Bond when he watches MI6 HQ blown on TV from his idyllic hideaway gets back on the job. He isn’t admitted in but sweats for it to re-certify himself “fit for action”. Ralph Fiennes is breathing fire down M’s neck as the head of Security and pressurizing her to retire for her failure on the disc job. The film does stick to format however the characters aren't caricatures but truly well etched out and played by such polished performers that it’s a pleasure all the way. Albert Finney as the caretaker of the bleakly isolated Scottish family estate of Bond,  comes in to an important cameo and superbly carries it off.

Sam Mendes in the closing sequence of the film seems to have paid a tribute to Coppola’s Godfather and the transition begun here makes the next one a film to be eagerly awaited. Craig is totally able as James Bond and his stamp of authority on  the character is absolute. Judi Dench is spectacular in her last film as M. The old purists may have issues with the treatment in this film, not enough action, not enough gizmos,  but one feels the tension simmering all the time below the surface waiting to explode making the need for viewing action itself redundant. 

There are two Bond girls and one ( Berenice Marlohe ) does not have much to do while the other Eve ( Naomie Harris ) we may end up seeing more of ahead . The young Q ( Ben Whishaw)  is geeky and cheeky and has one of the best lines ever “Were you expecting  an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore”. The BMW has been the official Bond car since Pierce Brosnan but when Craig unveils the Aston Martin DB5 we had the old Bond back for a fleeting moment and then as it gets blown to smithereens by Silva, it signals with a finality that yet another exciting new era has begun for our favourite franchise.  

Is it worth a watch ??? As a film, without a doubt but as a Bond film absolutely unmissable. 

17 June, 2012

Honey Glazed Chicken : A Quick Lunch

It was a typical lazy Sunday afternoon and a leisurely third cup of tea was nearing its conclusion. No pleasure is greater than having a hot chai watching the heavy downpour splatter on your window, while you are sitting warm and snug inside listening to Geeta Dutt crooning ‘Waqt ne Kiya kya haseen sitam’. It was ‘Kagaz Ke Phool’ playing on Doordarshan an immensely more attractive proposition than suffering ‘Agneepath’ on Zee Cinema. The play of lights and shadows in that movie makes it a classic that can be experienced again and again just for what the cameraman Moorthy achieved on celluloid way way back; truly amazing. A small question crept up is how would lunch be managed now that this movie is on, when it’s a must view? Hence it needed to be something that can be rustled up during the many commercial breaks; 3 minute windows between 10 minutes of viewing. That was the challenge. Needless to say, any meal being a serious business in this abode, it needed to be complete and befitting the exacting standards of the wife who is an excellent cook herself. She is on some assignment and this was my baby today.

She went inside to work on her computer with a terse "Why don’t you take care of lunch, am busy today." "What would you want?" I ask looking out into the pouring rain sensing my dry snugness evaporating. “Surprise me” says she and closed the room door. I look back and see Guru Dutt in the frame remove his fedora and wiping his forehead. His expression seemed to say "I made a movie for you to enjoy, now you would want me to make your lunch too?”. He is not going to be a help, thought I so far as inspiration goes. As the commercials flash am in the kitchen, rustling up the shelves and looking through the refrigerator. One good thing is both are always stocked.

Commercial Break 1 ( Whats available?)
From the freezer I get two large boneless breasts of frozen chicken, couple of eggs, fresh curry leaves, ginger paste, garlic paste. I start the assembly and gosh...no vegetable oil. Talk about well stocked! From the shelves I pick a double pack of Maggi Noodles, Chicken taste maker (stock) cubes, soy sauce, a fresh unopened bottle of olive oil (whew ), chilli flakes, rosemary, thyme and oregano, red onions in the basket.  Ok so it had to be noodles, chicken and eggs. But exactly what dish...by then the commercials were off and put the breasts in a microwave bowl to defrost, while I came and sat back in front of the movie.

Commercial Break 2 ( The inspirational idea )
The breasts had thawed and being frozen had partially cooked in the bowl and looking so fat and juicy that it seemed criminal to dice them. They had to remain just like that, whole, juicy and thick. And then comes the inspiration, I could see them lying on a white plate golden brown and served on the side with a plate of noodles delicately seasoned (I opted out of the ready tastemaker which was masala...yikes, because it would have interfered with the overall meal flavour) and served with eggs.  When the objective is clearer with the ingredients ready and in front, then all that remains is the process. That’s not too bad, don’t blame me for thinking like this, am an engineer we are trained to think from the first principles and the creative solution too is looked at from a problem solving approach ;-) That’s in our DNA.

Step 1:
The marinade:
The two breasts of one chicken partially cooked in the microwave for about 2 and a half minutes while defreezing were from a fowl who simply for her cleavage would have been the toast of her coop in her heydays. Somewhere between Medium to Large size.
1 table spoon of ginger paste, 1 tablespoon of garlic paste, 1teaspoon of red chili powder, a dash of rosemary, a dash of thyme and oregano with a pinch of salt was mixed together as a paste. It was rubbed on all sides of the breast evenly and nicely and left to rest for one movie length (about ten minutes). 
In the mean time took one red onion and finely diced slivers and kept them aside. About 15 curry leaves, fresh and a deep green were ripped from the stem. My Mise En Place ( I love throwing some jargon to make this very simple dish look exotic and for those of you who don’t know this, there is always the Larousse Gastronomique or Google, you just don’t get free recipes without having to do something, even if it’s looking up a word )

Step 2: (Commercial Break 3)

Noodles, especially when they come out of a packet have a tendency to cook unevenly. So when one has to cook them Al Dente or just right here is a tip that I use. Boil water in a large sauce pan till it simmers and starts to bubble, drop in a couple of drops of oil till the oil breaks up. Today one packet of Maggi chicken tastemaker was added to this boil along with the stock left over from the defreeze chicken from the microwave bowl plus a few slices of that onion cut for the chicken. Why let go of genuine flavours, I say? While this boiled over put in a tablespoon of soy sauce. The aroma was unbelievable from so simple a boiler. Then added the noodles last and within a minute had them sieved off. The hot boil I kept on the pan to reduce, like a sauce or a soup. The starch from the noodles that gets left over turns it into a terrific soup, should one want it so. The noodles were spread off to cool on a plate. The oil ensures the noodles don’t stick to each other.

Step 3 : ( Commercial Break 4 )

Added two table spoons of olive oil and tossed in the onions once the oil was hot. Added the curry leaves and when they start to spatter and the onions are caramelizing (don’t worry about the onions even if a few char off they just add to the flavour) place the marinated chicken breasts on the pan. Cook it for 2-3 minutes on either side (at this point the food takes precedence over the movie) till the chicken is a golden brown on both sides. Stand them on the edges for a minute in the hot pan if they are thick, mine were, such that the juices seeped in are sealed within.

The glaze; Take four tablespoons of wild honey (we had some we had brought from Konkan, it has a slightly waxy smell but awesome body and smoothness) or any honey and add loads of red chilli flakes and mix it thoroughly.

The noodles unless they have gone real cold (then they can be tossed off on a lightly oiled pan) and served in soup plates. Pour the reduced sauce like a sprinkle on this spread of noodles.  

The Finale :

The flavours are light and delicate. I fried an egg (half fry/bulls eye/ sunny side up/light such that the whites are soft and not crispy) and placed it on the bed of sauced noodles. . Poured the reduced sauce from the noodles into a cup for added flavouring should it be required. The side dish was ready.
The two breasts were on the plate. Arranged the caramelized onions and the curry leaves in a small heap by the side. With a spoon glazed every surface of the hot golden brown chicken with the honey and flakes mixture. It shone with the red of the flakes dancing off throwing spots of light.

I knocked on the door and called the wife. No expression on her face till she had the chicken and then a smile. My Sunday lunch turned out perfect. Simple to turn out and delightfully sumptuous...

22 May, 2012

Open & Shut Case : ( Part 2 ) The Case

The locality was clearly Bengali, almost a ghetto, of the early migrants into the fast growing parts of suburban Bombay. A strong aroma of turmeric & mustard oil had steeped into everything around. Cats were fat in this locality where fresh-water fish bones, heads, tails and entrails are constants of the refuse bins. The only mice were the men who worked at clerical day jobs quietly and morphed into tigers on their way back home.

Nobody who had seen the house ever forgot it. It was that kind of a building. Houses too have character and if one were to describe this one, it was darkly mischievous. Exactly like the family that stayed here; a large family of many people but few personalities. This was the residence of the Chakraborty’s.

Justice Chakraborty, the man who built this original structure had been a renowned high court judge in British Bombay. He sired three daughters & two sons; Gangadevi, Jamuna devi, Nirmalendu, Sarasboti devi  & Prabhatchandra. His honor’s dash & fire had found its way in only one of his children though, the elder son, Nirmalendu. The judge had typically serious expectations from this son to succeed him in the legal field and the son equally typically had distinctly different ideas. Nirmalendu was brilliant in schooling and had secured admission into the Jesuit run Wilson College. Here he saw his first enacted stage play & Nirmalendu chanced upon his life's vocation & mission. Explosive arguments were the natural fall out of this choice. But the son was made of the same mettle and he persisted. He was hard working too , dropped out of college , went professional early & soon became the most successful drama artiste the stage had ever seen. The judge however untouched by his son’s achievement, refused to attend a single play and died a man unbroken but shamed. The sisters were all married into respectable families and moved on to different cities. Prabhat, the second son had followed his father’s footsteps into law but he never did find the trail blazed by his illustrious father. He had a small seedy local legal practice that attended to minor matters of drafting documents and notarizing them. Years passed and both the sons got married and the number of people in the household increased. There had been servants during the judge’s time too, who had separate quarters inside the house but now a few more were needed.
Nirmalendu was now the head of the family & had added a section to this house, expanding both the family and servant quarters. He also got it painted like the Badi’s of old Calcutta; where the walls are painted a turmeric yellow that grows darker & dirty with age while the windows and door frames painted a dark green remain as glossy as ever. There was a large window that looked out into the street above the main door that opened into the courtyard. This window had thick vertical bars and would be permanently open all day. The two windows on the top floor were forever closed and this is what gave the impression that the house was maliciously grinning with closed eyes. The house was always loud noisy, full of people, there was lots of laughter but very little joy could be traced in the sounds that emanated.

The courtyard of Nirmalda’s badi (house) has an old tall jamun tree around which a broad brick lined enclosure was built up such that visitors who were really not very close could sit themselves comfortably and the privacy of the house remained undisturbed. Shayamoli , Nirmalda’s elegant beautiful wife and the mistress of this house sternly also kept it that way. Left to Nirmalda the world would have been totally chaotic. Nirmalda had held court here with many others who would sit around on the platform or on the floor on most evenings. This now happened more frequently in this year since he had given up the stage. There would be good natured arguments and long winded discussions  on subjects varying from the arts, to the sorry state of Bengal, to as esoteric as to why tea tastes better double boiled when served in an earthen ware pot than when had from in an enamel  cup. She restricted the chaos to the platform yet never ever joined in herself. One could notice disapproval in her eyes sometimes at the loud arguments. Nirmal da was the king and his voice was the loudest. When he had downed his third double of VAT 69 he literally took centre stage and rattled off the poems of Gurudev Tagore to Byron and Shakespeare with equal fluency.

Two days hence would be the festival of Divali. I was just about to hand over the night charge to Inspector Sane at 7.15 am when the call came. Dwarakababu, from the Chakraborty residence reported a serious accident. Three of us had gone to the scene my senior inspector Rahul Sane, constable driver Moreshwar Patil and me, Sub-Inspector Mahadev Ramakant Pinge. Sane took over, asked for Dwarkababu. He turned out to be the servant in the household, and enquired as to what had happened here? He just silently led us up the staircase to the last room on the first floor corridor. Sane opened up the door, took everything at a glance, asked me to stay here and secure the room. He turned to Dwarkababu to ask who the person inside was? Nirmal da, came the answer. He started writing down the names of those who were in the house as of the last night and insisted on meeting all of them. I stepped forward and stood at the doorway and looked inside.

The pool of congealed blood behind the chair told a story all its own. His head leaned back over the back of the chair behind the desk. The neck stretched out as if he had been asked to play the role of a murdered man and like the many other things that he was known for to do well in his life, this too was executed with perfection. The scene had completely taken over with an absolute finality. Nirmalda was dead.

I wondered at the curious choice of words that occurred for the scene before me; it was as if the mind had colluded with the senses mischievously to pick these particular ones from all the words existing. If the truth be told I also nurtured a hope that something fishy would exist in the matter. This was my first view of an unnatural death up-close; hence I tried to keep the excitement at bay.

The scene seemed all the more peculiar because the room looked so neat and orderly. No disturbance whatsoever defined any other presence in the room but for the man who lay there quite dead. Between Nirmalda’s feet lay a roll of paper. I drew it out using a pencil and gently spread it open on the desk with the pencil and another pen preserving the possible evidence that could be later taken from it. The department had been informed and they were sending the forensic team here. Till then I waited outside.  

I recalled the words in the note…“I do not blame anybody for the course of action taken. Rather than live the life of a drunken has-been star I take this way out”...the words were firm and clear but the handwriting was scraggly. The note was not signed. This seemed like a fairly open and shut case. Sane used to say he did not like suicides especially high profile ones as they created tremendous paperwork and strained the already tenuous impression of the police with the affected family, but procedures had to be followed.

The forensic team arrived with the photographer. First in was the doctor who looked for the pulse of the victim, confirmed death & stood to one side. The photographer took over under the guidance of the forensic pathologist. I quietly handed the letter as evidence to the forensic team who glared at me for disturbing evidence. He bagged it with a pair of forceps.

I came out into the courtyard and joined Inspector Sane who was smoking in the courtyard; I had shown him the letter earlier. Silently I shook my head only to find the inspector staring at me with rapt interest. This is not good he said but you are wise to keep quiet. Do not be surprised by what happens next said he ominously crushing the cigarette butt quite fiercely under his feet.

Shyamoli the wife, Prabhat the younger brother, his wife Sunayna, their children Suman and Apu, Sunaynas brother Tapan, Dwaraka babu the servant, Dwaraka babu’s wife Bijoli were present from the family. Taraknath Sinha the son of Justice Chakraborty’s best friend Pashupatinath Sinha had also visited and left. The family had had finished dinner by 9.45pm and Nirmal da had retired to his study. Shyamoli di had prepared the coffee that he enjoyed post dinner and had kept it in his room. Tarak babu had stayed chatting with Nirmal da for a while and had left at 10.15 pm. The main door was locked. Death had occurred by a gunshot wound but no one had heard the sound of a shot as the neighbouring kids had started bursting crackers even before Divali.

The next day’s newspapers were full of articles about Nimalda and his illustrious career. It was painted like a typical rags-to-riches story. It also added instances on how Nirmal da was thrown out of the house by his father the strict judge, which had not been true. How he had started out as a helper in the theater company doing odd jobs and was discovered in the backroom by the director when he had been mouthing the lines of the lead role with a far better conviction than the actor who had the part, which was true; the first lead role and the success that followed and remained with him for more than a decade and a half, his romancing many a lady and then falling for the much younger co-actor Shyamoli Guhathakurta and their fairy tale marriage. The story unfolded in pictures of happiness with the birth of their child and then a tragedy with the accidental death of his son who fell down the stairs of their own house while he was playing Hamlet at the Tapan Theater at Kalighat, in Calcutta. There were rumors of his hitting the bottle after that and the roles dwindling. Cinema also became more popular and how it was anathema to him after the purity of the stage. I came to know more about Nirmal da after reading this. Some newspapers had not been very kind and hinted at his many dalliances with his leading ladies and some even went to the extent of hinting at how this had pushed Shyamoli into the arms of his brother who stayed in their house. I was quite irritated reading this that for some people nothing was sacred in the pursuit of news. However could not dismiss this view offhand as my first impression had been that it was indeed a peculiar household.

Days passed and the crowds had dwindled in front of Nirmal da’s house. It was on the fourth day from the tragedy that we got the complete forensic report. Inspector Sane had clearly told me that we shall only talk after all the evidence is in. It is always better that way especially in family suicides. Till then we can talk to the family and the people in the house.

Dr. Godghate our forensic expert had himself made the report. The report clearly said death occurred due to the gunshot wound with the bullet passing from the inside of the mouth to the back of the skull where he lay. The fingerprints on the gun belonged to the victim only and no other prints were found on the gun. But there were a few peculiarities that also were highlighted. The victim was right handed while the bullet had passed at an angle from the left to the right. Prior to the victim “supposedly” having shot himself he had imbibed a large quantity of arsenic de hydride commonly found in rat poisons and this was found in the coffee cup on his table and through his blood stream. Had he not shot himself he would have died anyway. The poison was the reason why so much blood had flown. There was also an attempt made to strangle the victim with a tie rope of the curtain, the pieces of which had been found at the victim’s feet. The handwriting on the suicide note was not of the victim but of Shyamoli  his wife as was verified from the various samples of writing found from the house. On reading the report I now knew what Sane had meant when he said do not be surprised. Now the darker side of what the newspapers hinted at had started to become clearer.

What do you think now Pinge? Is it an “Open & Shut Case”?

Why would a man try to commit a suicide in 3 different ways? I asked and Sane jumped on it and said because it may not be a suicide at all.

Sane was assigned the case along with me and the commissioner wanted an early closure of this because of the high profile nature of the personality involved. It was discovered that Taraknath babu was the family lawyer and earlier Nirmalda had created a will that had assigned his wealth in equal portions to his family members, there were some bequests to the servants but it was only a month back that he had modified the will and changed it to favor Shyamoli in toto, the minor bequests were unchanged but Prabhat and his family were totally excluded. On enquiry it was found that in one of the gathering of his cronies Nirmalda and Prabhat having downed a few extra fingers of the amber had had an argument. It was some silly matter that escalated and the frustration of the normally quiet Prabhat had given through and serious words got exchanged. Nirmalda took severe exception to his brother’s words and despite the two women trying to cool them off it was after that he had called Tarak babu and changed his will.

On further enquiry Prabhat was remorseful of that incident. Nirmalda had again in a fit of spite referred to it over dinner yesterday in front of Tarak babu and Prabhat had angrily left dinner mid-way and gone up to his room. Shyamoli tried to mollify things but Nirmal da got incensed and he censured her too for defending that wimp who could not stick around to fight his own battle. Prabhat was not seen till the morning except by his wife. Sunayna had slept taking a pill because of the headache that came on because of the showdown. She had woken up groggily only after the police had come into the house. Shyamoli had slept alone as Nirmal da often would read until late and frankly after his boorish behavior she was not keen on seeing him soon. Sane had also done the inquiry and had found that the rumors of closeness between Prabhat & Shyamoli had a grain of truth. Nirmal da at the height of his career would tour often and was not a saint. Prabhat was not married then and living with a beautiful woman in a house there had been several moments of weaknesses for both of them. After he got married it had stopped but even if the fire is extinguished the stench remains. So it happened with Prabhat & Shyamoli. Prabhat's modest earnings kept him bound to this house. Sunayna too had left home more than once due to reasons unknown but had been persuaded to return.

Now the case was solidly prepared Shyamoli and Prabhat were arrested for the premeditated murder of Nirmalendu Chakraborty. They were separately arrested for planning the crime, executing it and tampering with evidence to point it towards suicide. Shyamoli was charged with the poisoning of her husband and writing the letter while Prabhat for attempting to strangle an asleep Nirmal da and failing that shooting him with his own gun and planting it in his own hand. Both claimed innocence but were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Both Sane and I got promoted after this case.

Years later I met Dwarakababu in the market and he said that he too had left their employ. The house had been doomed right from the start. Apparently after their release from the prison after their term the house had been put up for sale and it fetched a handsome value that was split between Shyamoli and Prabhat and they had left town never to be heard of again.

The case was sordid and often I had wondered that crimes of such kind are largely motivated by Mammon (lust for money or power) or Passion( Love, Hate)  this one clearly fell under the revenge motive and had been properly & quite thoroughly handled from the word go. I had been disturbed by the claim of innocence by both the perpetrators initially though but this had been my first case. With every new case that came my way I realized that very few accused actually admitted guilt and gradually it faded from my memory too…until now


Chitragupta looked at me and said now do you remember? I nodded. The case had flashed before my eyes & I had lived it again.

He told me that there were some right questions asked by you but not pursued. I was puzzled. You mean this case was not solved perfectly? I was keen to know where the loopholes that we had not plugged were. Chitragupta said there were many things that you diagnosed correctly. After so many years of service you are now an experienced cop what is the first question that comes to your mind when you see an unnatural death? How did the victim die, I said. He nodded and asked, what's the second? Who gains from this?Correct said he. 

So can we revisit the evidence? I was puzzled and not able to figure out what Chitragputa was driving at. I interrupted his flow and insisted on knowing what the correct question that I had asked was? He smiled and the whole narrative flashed on the wall like a power point presentation and halted at “why would a man try to commit suicide in 3 different ways?”. Holy cow...You mean it was actually a suicide? But how... the motive was clearly proven as revenge and it was a premeditated crime. Chitragupta said yes, but only from the opposite end. Do you remember your first impression of the room. Yes , it was a scene. Exactly…the victim had staged his own death. Nirmal da had been cuckolded inside his own house by his brother whom he rated as next to nothing. There can be nothing more humiliating for an achiever who is recognized in his world as a top dog. For more than a year he had planned his exit like the trained actor that he was. He intentionally picked up a fight with Shyamoli. He practiced her writing and deliberately kept the note short , cryptic and unsigned. The note was the stroke of genius that drew attention to it being a murder. He drank the rat poison from his coffee to implicate her completely. Posion is a woman’s weapon. The tie rod he strangled across his neck and broke it such that the weals stayed. This tied in Prabhat. The gun was to ensure he died. I was stunned as the lettering across the ledger disappeared…

Not for nothing was he a great artiste…he always opened his acts with an impact and shut them in style. Chitragupta naughtily said it can still be called an “Open & Shut Case” you know….

19 May, 2012

Open & Shut Case : (Part One ) The Journey

The crow swooped down on the ghee soaked ball of rice and pecked hungrily. Very soon others had joined him and the rice was finished in no time.  The people around at the crematorium beamed at each other with relief. All the dead man’s wishes from this life had been satisfied, was the general belief, when the crows did that.

My ticket to the other world was now confirmed. The heart had just stopped beating on a lark at 92 years, six months and three days since my birth; not unlike the engine of an antique car, one that is assumed to run forever, giving up one day without any warning breaking down & after a cursory check by the mechanic is relegated to the junkyard.

 That frail aged body had restricted a lot of my motor movements when alive and in an instant now, I tasted freedom again. I conducted a world tour but it finished in a mere two hours, the same tour that had taken Phileas Fogg 80 days. 

Having seen it all now, the other geographies of the world held no charm for me as much as being around my own people and spooking them. Yes, there were a lot of people to spook. I had a rip roaring time scaring the daylights of the neighborhood children, those who had deliberately kept  playing on in the afternoons noisily ( despite requests and then warnings ) during my siesta times. Hence now when they played cricket, I kept floating their ball out of reach in the air till it freaked them out completely. Next on my list was the mean green grocer Dayanand, who refused to look at me and insisted on  speaking to my daughter-in-law only because she was the one who paid his bill. I whistled past and made him drop the vegetables on the staircase. Later also blew his dhoti exposing a dark posterior in the middle of the busy market. I visited the old crime beat and the police station. It was huge fun to rock the chairs of the few officers who enjoyed refusing sanctioning leaves, then after I scared a few fellows while they counted the collected graft. 

Soon I got bored with all this and couldn’t wait for my journey to begin.

The 13th day dawned and no sooner had the priest started uttering his chants I felt a sensation of an upward pull. In my childhood I had sat on a roller coaster at a fun-n-fair, this was similar. With each sonorously chanted mantra I rose up at a tremendous speed cleaving the clouds. It was a terrific rush. The motion stopped no sooner had it begun. I seemed to have arrived at my final destination which turned out to be a fairly curious building. An immense fortress of clouds, no other description could fit.

It had many gates. Each of the gates had a nameplate on it. Wonder of wonders, every one of them seemed to be manned by the same person wearing a different uniform. The gatekeepers had small nameplates pinned at chest level on their flowing white robes. The closest door read “Pearly Gates” and the name plate on the person standing outside read “St. Peter”, On the next gate where it read “Jannat” the keeper was “Aadam”, I was rushed off towards the third one that read “Swarg “and again it was the same face with “Chitragupta” as his tag who asked me to wait inside in the reception.

The Reception turned out to be a large hall with hundreds of chairs laid out. Some were occupied. At the end of the room was a long wall with many doors. Everyone here seemed to be gliding about in a smooth motion like the ice skaters of the winter Olympics. 

This did resemble the inside of the new Consulate in Bombay at Bandra Kurla, the one that issued American visa’s. A name would flash on a door and an occupant of a chair would get up, glide over to vanish inside. No one came out. After a brief wait while a few more of the chairs emptied, felt a tug and saw that it was my name “ACP Mahadev Ramchandra Pinge” flashing. I too found myself gliding over to the door & go through it. 

Beyond the door was a small cubicle that had a working table and two chairs. “Chitragupta” was sitting in one & he gestured for me to take the other. Looking around curiously & studying the place, I saw on the walls a picture of a red eyed man with an extremely dark complexion. He had fierce moustaches, was holding a mace on one shoulder and a noose loosely coiled in his left hand like a cowboy. Only instead of a horse, he was astride a tall strong but benign looking water buffalo. Chitragupta, who was watching me with a smile said that’s our Co-Founder and CEO Mr.Y. My curiosity was further aroused with his answer. Only a co-founder, does that mean there are others involved in this enterprise? He nodded. This particular section, he said was the most chaotic amongst all. There are 330 million founders in all. Mr.Y was the CEO and took all the decisions. The other founders rarely interfered with this section & being alone it had become Mr. Y’s fiefdom.

What am I doing here? I asked him. He told me that there are a few formalities to be completed before I can be assigned. I raised my eyebrows as he removed a ledger book which seemed more like an accountant’s balance sheet. It had a debit and a credit side. He looked up from it and said that I am impressed, that even after being a policeman all your working life, you have remained relatively clean, which in itself is a major positive factor in your favour. Nodding, told him that I had only one interest, that was to do a job well, close all the cases to satisfaction & I have done just that. 

At that he looked up & asked me “Are you very sure?” because that’s the reason we are sitting here. I looked down and saw all entries on the page that had balanced out had vanished, only one remained, blinking furiously. The words were an amber red. It was the same one that had bothered me when I had officially closed it. But now here it was winking mischievously to haunt me even after my death. 

The high profile case of Nirmalendu Chakraborty….it had become famous as the “Open & Shut” case...it was back…I stared at the blinking red lettering on the ledger & was transported to the venue back in time…60 years ago

24 March, 2012

Agent Vinod : Of Commonwealth Bond’s, Few Thrills, No Chills and Many Frills

Movie-making can be and often is a story stranger & grittier than the movie itself…..

Disclaimer: The entire scene is a figment of the writers imagination and is nothing but a leading account to the making of the movie. If that's the way it happened then its a mere coincidence and the same can take him into a soothsayers realm.

Prelude: Circa, Many years ago…in between two epoch making events , the successful release of “Ek Haseena Thhi and the formation of a new company called “Illuminati Films Pvt Ltd”

Hello, is it Sriram?…Saif here. EHT has been good and want to make some movies on my own now. Was thinking of you at the helm of a few projects, Oh OK so you are in? I won’t take a NO later, have even identified a script, shall discuss details when we catch up. Take care.

Few days later a flabbergasted and horrified Sriram Raghavan and a benign Saif sporting an almost beatific smile are found sitting across a table on which is lying a tacky looking CD of the movie “Agent Vinod ". With a start he looks behind Saif and sees the date 1st April on the wall calendar and with a relieved sigh gets his smile back.
Oh Boy ,Saif you can sure pull a mean prank, you almost got me there. For a moment I thought you were serious.
Now its Saif’s turn to be startled...Abbey *#@@**%$ What the *@#$$%#* you talking about?
Sriram points to the CD…this, I seriously expected you thought I would be making a movie remake of this one.
Saif well behaved at most times has a bad case of mercury rising yet manages to control it and starts stalking the room, "But of course I am *%$#@##$%& serious.
But why, wails the director, why this movie,why now, why me and in that budget…Do you even know who played the lead in this one ? I for one don’t…see its its...some Mahendra Sandhu and who had produced it, looking back at the CD jacket, OMG Rajashree Productions? Whatever possessed the Barjatya’s to do it? Sri…Sri…Saif says in a placating manner, understand it that this movie was a hit then, now why don’t you go home have a long drink of cold Chhaas. Mor or whatever the *%$#$ you chaps call your buttermilk, see the movie and then come back.

A few more days later, a resigned Sriram and Saifu are found sitting down again.
Sriram: This is tacky beyond shape, I just wont be able to make it the way it’s done here. Now we are talking said an enthusiastic Saif. Tell me what do you like in the movie?
Sriram rolls his eyes up and mutters…nothing…Saif glare stops him from going further…OK, I kind of like the idea of an Indian secret agent. Yes, it has patriotic potential says Saif. I like the idea of the girls and though Rehana Sultana was not so bad we wont get anyone as flashy and downmarket as Sheetal anymore. Great says Saif…the Barjatyas looked at the lowest common denominator we shall aim high. Our movie would be classy with loads of babes, great looking ones at that. The car chases on dusty roads are good but not what we cant do now because of so much construction happening across the country there are no villages in India anymore. What did you say the budget was? Now Saif distinctly has a sparkle in his eyes knowing fully well that the director is hooked. Expense is no problem. Because people expect Car chases and flashy cars, we definitely have to make them believable. It is impossible to make people believe the speedometer can go beyond 30 km per hour on Indian urban city roads with traffic and potholes.

We shall spread across Europe. Shall we select the countries? Sriram looks to find some darts on the table and a map of Europe stuck on a cork-board hung on the wall.There are seven darts in all & they find their marks. see how easy it was says Saif, now that the location problem is mutually and amicably sorted out, what about the babes?
Will you ask Bebo ? ( Kareena ) She is the one you are with these days aren’t you? asks Sriram.
Saif freezes him with a look. I was not looking at her as my personal and professional lives are separate. That's why I signed Deepika for the first release of this production house. Now I don't want her again. It is a minor issue, we shall have it lined up and addressed later.

See now ,when two people are reasonable what can't they not achieve, Saif's normal grammar takes some unexpected turn in his excitement. We have practically finished the film here...right here on the table Sriram, all that remains is the shooting, lets just give it a once over and make a checklist
  1. Remake of "Agent Vinod" only more sexier, more stylish with the unique Sriram Raghavan feel.
  2. The agent will need to have some legitimacy so we can make him an agent of either the Indian army or the RAW…we shall toss for that later. ( Keep a coin handy for the decision making.Saif scribbles this note down at the side)
  3. India –Pakistan, nuclear bomb ( basic ingredients)
  4. Bomb Logistics : Bomb moving from place to place. So we take the audience through the logistics of the complete cycle of Bomb procurement to Bomb Destination
  5. Car Chases, minimum 2 and maximum 5( contact a Logistics company for an in-cinema sponsorship )
  6. Ok lets settle on Two car chases, One motorbike ride, One plane or chopper sequence, yeah I guess that should do ( Harley Davidson is making noises of entering India...approach them for free bikes and sponsorship)
  7. Action : has to be gritty, real, fights choreographed perfection like the ones in Jason Bourne movies.
  8. Guns and arms , loads of them
  9. Babes…Sriram votes for Kareena, Saif is non-committal and says we need at least one more woman part with real lines . Essential ingredient lots of cleavage and designer dresses. ( This portion nearly pushed the time line by 3 years because Bebo was a size sero then and it would be another 4 years before she could muster up some physiological material for a real cleavage)
  10. Music …for remakes it has to be – Pritam, his sounds are refreshingly international and shall be familiar to all the countries we finally release the movie in.
OK then let’s get the act going. We shall rock their pants off.

Present Day – Review of the movie.

A sniffling Kareena who cries when they are passing her old home in Karachi is told by a stern faced Saif, “ agar tumhari Yaadon Ki baraat khatam ho gayi to…aagey sochey’ The tone is droll and the sense of humour is distinctly evident and its Indian. But is this Bond meets Ethan hunt meet Jason bourne meet Mahendra Sandhu actually there? Yes it is.

Saif in and as Agent Vinod is on fire. Writer-Directors Sriram Raghavan’s vision has transported the humdrum Agent Vinod of the late seventies into the jet age and spread him across the geography of the globe. This is as much as can be said about the ‘Bond’ness of the film. Its spread is its weakest link too as in addressing all the issues related to Inidanness – Pakistani agents not to be demonized ( so we have Bilal, Iram, Parveen played by a Kareena Kapoor looking glorious) The director does his absolute best and it is evident when you look at the scenes individually. Each scene is filmed superbly, the cut the ethos around the scene magnificent yet while the scene has loads of depth, cohesively across the length of the movie these scenes don’t seem to come together and fit seamlessly into a plot that at once heightens the viewing pleasure of an adrenaline starved audience. This experience remains flat.

The movie has superb locales and its in the first twenty minutes that the movie rises and reaches a peak and from then on the peaks are never breached. Reverting back and paying tribute to Hindi cinema of the seventies in the frame building is a style that is adopted by todays filmmakers and Raghavan is no exception. He uses it liberally. There is one point where the good cinematic quotient reaches a high and achieves greatness that is in the song Raabta, its filming is pure genius. Maryam Zakaria as the second …if Bond girls are called Bond girls should we call her “Vinod’ girl is saucy and sultry. The rest of the star cast is a study in caricatural villainy and a throwaway to the tacky version from which this remakes finds its roots, this includes the scorpion tattoos sported by each villainous gang member.

Yet as films go this movie still is worth a watch. It is technically very sharp and performances when not over the top are generally good. Saif is what makes the movie watchable, his bearing throughout the movie is superb and he is throughout in character. Does this have a potential for a sequel ??? Most definitely.
Only the second time around in the checklist if the Actor-Producer and the Writer–Director instead of an item number ( Mika's voice has mischief in the catchy rhythmic Pungi song, though Saif struggles through it ) they include STORY/PLOT somewhere higher up in the order, it would certainly be something to look forward to.

17 February, 2012

Golaberij - Marathi Cinema Review

Gola-Berij ( Sum Total ) …A walk down memory lane with friends

How does one narrate a story of an entertainer in an audio visual medium? Tell it simply and it can attain an entertaining documentary feel like a “Harishchandrachi Factory”. Take it to a grand scale like some flamboyant personalities portrayed and we can get a “Bal Gandharva” but Kshitij Zarapkar has moved off this beaten path with “Gola Berij” and we get a narrative so fresh that the journey becomes a familiar walk down memory lane with friends you have known all your life.

Confused??? Don’t be…This is a movie experience like no other seen lately where the screenplay is firmly the star of the show. It’s an absolute work of art.

And this could only be possible because the person whose story it tries to capture is an entertainer whose footprint is virtually seen on all walks of art. Purushottam Lakshman Deshpande  aka Pu La  Deshpande or simply Pu La is a name that hardly needs an introduction.  A powerful writer with an incisive insight into the heart of characters he created, a spontaneous wit that relied on the everyday happenings , he was also an accomplished musician who had a mastery over the harmonium, composed and arranged music for many a film. He faced the camera too and his sensitive funny portrayals are immortalized on film. When he moved on from cinema and writing he created a unique form of live stage entertainment called the “Katha Kathan” or storytelling and it is here where he made his greatest mark by keeping his listeners spellbound and in absolute splits. He was truly the favourite son of Maharashtra, the one who made her laugh; a true blue “Ashta Pailu Kalakar” an all rounder par excellence.

Kshitij Zarapkar’s vision is unique. The story is captured as a journey from his childhood onward and it is here that he interjects the story of Pu La the man and enriches it with the characters created by Pu La the writer. We meet these unique characters at different walks of Pu La’s life and the ride becomes a joyride into the familiar. Those who are not familiar with the literature or Katha Kathan of Pu La are going to have an experience that will definitely lack a punch but the director is rightly banking on the fact that how many such philistines exist? If they do, they would still enjoy the movie and the movie shall bounce them back into picking up Pu La’s vast literary contribution to read. Either ways it would be a good thing.

The second absolute winner here is the casting and the quality of the star cast. The who’s who of contemporary Marathi cinema’s acting talent finds expression in this vision. The main protagonists Pu La ( superbly played by Nikhil Ratnaparkhi) & his wife Sunitabai ( Neha Deshpande-Kamath of the winsome smile) humbly stand to the side like narrators letting the characters take center stage and frolic with abandon. And frolic they do…These characters seemingly meet the narrator at various times and mark separate milestones in the life of Pu La. They are largely drawn from his Sahitya Academy award winning work “Vyakti ani Valli” . These are the cameos that makes the film so delightful, each a seasoned performance and so true to the characters we all know from his writings.

Early childhood is symbolized with the arrival of  Avinash Narkar as Hari Tatya, the person who looked and told the history of the land and Shivaji Maharaj in particular without any particular attention to tense or time. 

The College days are captured in the company of the disparate trio of  Bhaiyya Nagpurkar ( Sandip Pathak...apt) at the pan shop an outspoken deliberately uncouth Bramhin boy who is assumed to be a goon which he is not,  Natha Kamath ( Prasad Oak) and the dashing Nanda Pradhan ( Subodh Bhave) . Natha the eternal lover spurned (Mukta Barve) on the grounds of caste (DRB: Deshastha Rugvedi Brahman) and Nanda the cursed angel whose life lacks for nothing material but conceals the tragedy of a run-away mother who abandons him and whose one prized memory is a gentle night spent on the lap of his college mate ( Bhargavi ). Each character is so rich that they don’t find enough screen time but they flit in and out of the frames leaving us with the sense of the familiar connect. 

In Adulthood the writer encounters the most acerbic of his characters in Antu Barwa the old man from a village in Konkan, a veritable coconut whose tough hard shell hides a sweet meaty heart. This is a super fine character, one of the writers best and could only have been played by an actor of a fine caliber. Little wonder then that for the part we have Dilip Prabhavalkar. This is the performance that maintains the correct balance demanded of it, a tiny fraction here and there and the game would have been lost. It is spectacularly won here. 

Kshitij Zarapkar comes on as Raosaheb one of the most flamboyant of Pu La’s characters who has a mouth like a sewer. This he himself admits quite candidly but a soft touch with his own stage workers who quite often ask him for money. The inimitable fan of the writer,  Sakharam Gatne who lives by the written word of his hero. Satish Shah as 100% Peston Kaka accompanies us in an enjoyable train ride during the writers shift to Belgaum. Four other characters make their mark in a fashion like only they can . Namu Parit, the dhobi( washer man) with his own metric of right and wrong. This conscience less character is played with oodles of mischief by Sharad Ponkshe. The tireless do gooder Narayan ( Anand Ingle, excellent)  who comes into his own in any function may it be a marriage, a funeral or a thread ceremony. Chitale Master ( Mohan Agashe, superb) the absent minded Teacher who takes genuine delight in his students by scolding, cajoling lauding and touching base with their families. Reminiscent of an era where the Teacher was called Guruji, one who occupied a position that even superseded the parents. But the high impact "lump in the throat" performance comes from Babdu ( Sanjay Narvekar flamboyant, over the top and perfect ) - the man who strayed from the path. The black marketer, cum bootlegger who fondly recollects the writers ( Scholar as Babdu calls him)  moms besan laddoos and the one man in the entire class who truly regretted that “Ghosalkar Master died jhala” . 

Prashant Damle, Pushkar Shrotri, Satish Pulekar, Pradeep Patwardhan, Jaywant Wadkar,Hemangi Kavi, Shivani Karadkar come in intermittently and play their parts but it’s such a rich diaspora of acting talent that a student of cinema should definitely take this movie as a curriculum to study the nuances of accurate & balanced character portrayal.  Absolutely delightful and a definite must-see is this walk into the familiar territory. One cannot do justice to all the characters created by the author by having them in one movie but those who have screen time do full justice to it.The writer director liberally has drawn from all of the writers best known works like "Vyakti & Valli", "Batatyachi Chal", "Asa Mi Asa Mi", "Gun Gain Awadi", "Mhais", his cinema journey, his musical sojourn and story telling episodes making this narrative fluid yet rich. Yes, the Mhais episode seems to have been curtailed and left on the editing table but this does not overtly disturb the movie or the flow. 

Vijay Deshmukhs cinematography and the attention to detail on the sets makes this film that gets introduced to us as a stage act by Manoj Joshi, such a different piece of work that the director Kshitij Zarapkar can stand up and take a bow for a job truly well done.