Thank you for the lowbrow magnificence, Papa!

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The last time somebody was referred to as Papa The Great in a movie was Kishan Kumar, paradropped on the innocent audiences in the eponymous movie released in the year 2000. Kishan Kumar was the resident rajah of graceless grunge, a producerputra (he was the younger brother, if we are to get technical) inflicted on us in at least five movies between 1993 and 2000. From Aaja Meri Jaan to Bewafa Sanam and from Kasam Teri Kasam to Papa The Great, KK was on the mission impossible, gunning for the unachievable. But he kept trying. Diligently, self assuredly, continuously. Despite a face that only his mother would have found palatable, and acting skills that even his mother would not have found palatable. Papa The Great was one final assault from the Karolbagh Kumars, till brother Gulshan became wiser and moved on to the non-Kishan things in life. But the movie, and everything about it, remains an unforgettable piece of awkward awesomeness. Exactly what gives Kishan Kumar a hallowed place in the history of Hindi Cinema.

Poetic, therefore, that fifteen years later, the contender to topple and gobble the peachy coarseness of Kishan Kumar is another Papa The Great. Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insaan. The Messenger. The Artist Formerly Known as the Messenger of God.

And this Papa does not fly solo. He comes all guns blazing, with stadiums full of people chanting his name and carnivals dedicated to his bonbon affability. As he portrays the middle India messiah, the middle class master blaster. Hell, I was the only person at the theatre when I watched the movie, yet I was whistling away to glory! That’s what Pitaji does to you. Before you realise it, you become one with him, mildly suffocating though this sounds considering the kilos surrounding him. He builds your confidence, one fat cell at a time, layering one adipose tissue over another, and soon enough, you start believing that you can conquer the entire world. Like Papa.

All that you need to win the world over is extreme self belief. I don’t know what this Satguru does in real life, but if I were to just go by his film persona, he left me totally charged, yes sir. That you can look like a complex cross-pollination-product combining Hagrid, Govinda, Barbie and Austin Powers and mesmerise millions with that persona is reason enough for me to believe that I can score and more with whoever I want to. That you can wear red-colored slacks purchased from Sarojini Nagar Market and yet make enough money to buy red colored helicopters, is motivational for the multitudes including me. That you can be a dreadful singer and an awful dancer, and still change clothes ten times in a music video and have three laadli betis, including a firangi, as your heroines, brings spring in my step, with both my left feet raring to go. Don’t think any of the Khans can do this to me or any of their viewers. We get out of that dark cinema to our dull and dreary lives, knowing very well that Raj, Rahul and Prem are best placed on that screen. MSG gives us hope, confidence and faith.

The film also underlines that it is okay to be lowbrow. Why, it takes pride in it! The villain Chillam Khurana is a throwback to the over-acting Jogindar of yore, Gaurav Gera digs his nose and throws booger-balls at the bald head of the villain, a prostitute mouths lines like “Hum chalti phirti gaaliyan hain” and there are supposedly funny dialogues in form of “Main gas chhodunga” and “Because Guru ji is god and you are dog”. Crummy computer graphics meet Punjabi Baroque sensibilities, and the resultant set of dolphins and lotus pods in a swimming pool, to give just one example, are delightfully cringe-inducing. The blind set of followers in the film is what the film wants to achieve in real life, and it does an awesome job of it. By continuing to salute the embarrassing ensemble that it is! You stop feeling sorry about your own sorry self when you leave the theatre.

At the same time, Pitaji immortalizes the spirit of the new India where it is okay to work hard and party harder, flaunting what one has worked hard to achieve. He keeps calling himself ek adna sa fakeer. And yet, every single part of his rotund frame, and every single frame featuring every single part of his rotund frame, has bling on it. Everything around him is a by-product of shiny disco balls. His jhadoo, bicycle, motorbikes, cars, thrones, carpets, swimming pool and even the hot air balloon from which he makes one of his entries, AND his hair follicles, all shimmer and sparkle. Unashamedly. The sets seem loud, ostentatious and trippy, almost as if they have been designed by a poor man’s Sanjay Leela Bhansali on bad quality ganja. But this blatant display of his glaring wealth is very matter of fact. With a singular underlying message. Don’t denounce the world, but love and celebrate it. And that sometimes it is okay to cross-dress.

Thank you, Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insaan. Thank you from taking over from where Kishan Kumar left us. Thank you, Papa The Great. Thank you for the lowbrow magnificence. Thank you for the gauche pomposity. Thank you for the boisterous flamboyance. And thank you for reaffirming my faith in high art. :)

(This article first appeared on firstpost.com)

I got a job offer from BNP Paribas. What happened next would not shock you!

I rarely get mails which offer me jobs. In fact, I rarely get mails. Solitary reaper, et al. Which explains why I got so enamored and impacted by this mail forwarded to me by one Probaldwip Bakshi from SREI BNP Paribas, offering me a job as “Assistant Manager – ARM – Opportunity Management” at Durgapur. The mail was accompanied by the scanned copy of the offer letter and the renumeration package. For my perusal. (I didn’t really have to write the last sentence, but I don’t always get to use the word “perusal”, and I think I have a secret crush on the word. So yeah. For my perusal.) I was also told that the hard copy of the offer letter along with the joining kit would be handed over to me on the day I would join them.

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Now, I have always had a fixation for joining kits. I rarely get joining kits. Plus, “Assistant Manager – ARM – Opportunity Management” sounded like my kind of thing. But most importantly, who can say no to working with Probaldwip Bakshi! Naturally, I lapped it all up, and sent a merry reply confirming my acceptance.

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Mr. Bakshi, the OPM – SH (WB), sent me a short and curt reply, establishing the working relationship and expectations. That’s the kind of boss I have always wanted. Quick on the uptake and sort of British. Succinct and successful. I could only thank my gods for the good fortune. More so, because I rarely get replies.

BNP3I sent an immediate mail back to Mr. Bakshi, offering him my undying support in this momentous journey we were about to take together. I also had a few routine questions and clarifications pertaining to the job.

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And just when I had started thinking how I would play Tonto to this amazing Lone Ranger, I got a note from Chandrima Dutta, asking me to stop all communication on this subject. Just like that. No, really!

BNP5Crestfallen and dejected, I tried figuring this sudden change of behavior towards me. We were on a happy Paribas ride not very long time back, all of us, and now this! My innocent mind could not fathom why would something so bitter and brutal reach my inbox. And while I have always followed the peaceful path displayed by Dr. Martin Luther King, I could not control myself from questioning the logic behind Ms. Dutta’s mail.

BNP6Ah, Human Resource people, why art thee so cold, callous and cruel! Not only did Ms. Dutta decide to not write back to me and answer my good-natured, noble-intentioned questions, she also used her continued silence as her strongest weapon to shut me up and crush my child-like enthusiasm. This painful placidity, this sullen stoicism was too much to take for the very emotional me. My plan to make a difference to the world was savagely sabotaged by the world.

I decided to not take up the job. :|

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This hasn’t quite been the best experience of my life, but I still believe in the goodness of mankind. I believe in angels, something good in everything I see. I believe in quoting from an ABBA song and not giving them any credit for the same. I believe in honest people getting what they deserve, what is rightfully theirs.

Only, I rarely get mails which offer me jobs. :(

(I later gathered that the email ID of the guy they were trying to write to was vaibhav.vshl@****.com. Clearly, his favorite actor is Ajay Dvgn. His Action Jackson affiliations notwithstanding, I’m sure he makes a better candidate than me, and would do very well at the awesome organisation that SREI BNP Paribas is, blending in with the lovely people in there. All’s well that ends well.)

A Hindu-Muslim cab ride and a lowbrow selfie

Posted this on Facebook on 15th December, 2014 and the response was touching. While this note does not quite fit in with the general tonality of my blog, I am still posting it in here. Because I can. :)

I haven’t quite been well for the last four days and have been severely out of action. Made the first move out of home today for a drive to Bandra Kurla Complex for some work. To my horror, I discovered that there was some Vishwa Hindu Sammelan being organized at BKC. The roads were filled with various hues of saffron covering the rural Maharashtrian tourists on their first visit to Mumbai. There also was Poonam Mahajan showcasing her beatific smile from illegal hoardings in the backdrop of Jai Shri Ram war-cries and at least 30 of those huge Police trucks with the battalions deployed all over. I was suddenly taken back to Advani’s Rath Yatra that I had witnessed at the Rajendra Nagar over-bridge in Patna, and while the context today was not as militant, the confused feeling inside my head was the same… of unease, discomfort and fear, not being able to understand the motivation behind such a loud and ferocious assertion of the faith.

I drove back home, and had to leave again in an auto to Sion to get my other car from Servicing. (Yeah. First world issues. I know.) On the LBS Road just before Sion, I was suddenly greeted by a sea of green flags, long beards and Aligarh pyjamas. There were speaker-stacks on the side of the road matching the length and breadth of the Gateway of India, with their thump hitting the insides of the intestines, playing what sounded like some Islamic religious songs. I could not understand the context. But the feeling in my head was exactly the same that I had encountered not too long time back.

The auto stopped at the Sion station and I had to switch to a taxi. Had totally forgotten about this little technicality that no autos run beyond Sion. Womenfolk and cabbies always find reasons to reject me, and it was only after a wait for almost half hour that I finally found an affable Sikh driver asking me to hop in. The moment the car was about to leave, a Muslim man along with his burqa-clad wife carrying a toddler leaned in, and asked the cabbie to take them to Sion Hospital. Of course, I was in the cab already, so the driver expressed his inability, and zipped the car past the yellow blinking light to reach the other side of the signal.

I felt uneasy again. And this was worse than the discomfort encountered twice already in the span of last two hours. Something was acutely wrong and I wanted to make it right. And at least in this case, I knew how to. I told the cabbie to stop the car. I wanted those people to get in, too. The Sardarji said he was just about to do that himself, “aur aapne muh ki baat chheen li, babuji.”

Soon enough, the couple crossed the road and was surprised to find us waiting for them. Thus began our 5-minute journey towards Sion Hospital. A Hindu, a Sikh and a Muslim family travelling together to ensure that a toddler got timely treatment for whatever was bothering him. We talked about the baby and his health and told the mother that all would be okay.

I don’t know how much of a Hindu I was or how much of a Muslim or Sikh they were in that little ride that we took together. There were no Sammelans or congregations that we were going to. We weren’t getting satiated by loud songs or war-cries either. No flags were being carried. No overt symbols of our respective religiosities were being flashed. And yet, I knew I was a good Hindu. And that the couple were good Muslims, and the cabbie was a good Sikh.

All would be okay. I hope. I pray.

PS: Of course, I had to spoil it all by being the lowbrow low-light selfie-taker. But in my defence, I was just too overwhelmed by the moment, and what the heck, I am so good-looking!

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Why Gajendra Chauhan is the greatest FTII Chairman EVER!

“What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence”, said Ludwig Wittgenstein in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. I have NO clue what that means or who Ludwig Wittgenstein was, but this sure makes my discourse esoteric and academic right at the outset! Almost like all the Bombay Velvet reviews. The only difference is that I actually am here to discuss academics today. Specifically, the appointment of Gajendra Chahuan (or Chouhan or Chauan depending on which stage of his numerically challenged life you are talking about) as the Chairman of Film and Television Institute of India.

There have been protests galore against the selection of Mr. Chauhan, the erstwhile Dharmaraja Yudhishtir from BR Chopra’s eponymous TV series Mahabharata, and the entire world seems to have colluded to collide with the coronation of Gajendra. They say that the legacy of the hallowed premises of FTII has to be respected and that he doesn’t have the vision or knowledge of cinema. That he has no experience in the field of academics. That he is the Caesar of C-grade cinema, with the C standing for very many things. That he is a bad actor and a stooge of the ruling political party. That he is an obtuse idiot, a bumbling moron and a blockheaded dimwit. Okay, the last bit was me taking poetic liberty, but, yeah, similar sentiments.

Well. I come to praise Caesar, not to bury him!

According to IMDB, Gajendra Chauhan started his career way back in 1985 with Main Chup Nahin Rahoongi. So 2015 marks his 30th year in Hindi Cinema. That’s a really really long time for a nasal-twanged-single-expressioned-monotoned-jumna-paar-drawl to survive in this very competitive industry. And that, by itself, should be the reason enough for all of us to embrace him with open arms. But let this not be the only reason to be dazed and dazzled by our man. For somebody whose body of work includes watching bodies at work in Vasna, Khuli Khidki, Reshma, Samri and Rupa Rani Ramkali, Chauhan deserves our prostration, obedience and submission, in anywhich order. Find me another actor who can abduct, molest and defile with just his eyes and a lubed mass of thick hair. And the naysayers can die.

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Chauhan says he has been in the field of art for 34 years. That is just him being his regular modest and humble self. On the contrary, it is art that has been in the field of Chauhan for 34 years. From Awara Zindagi to Janam Se Pehle, from Jawani Jaaneman to Pathreela Rasta and from Gumnam Hai Koi to A Sublime Love Story: Barsaat, he has taken the service of every single dead cell generated by him to construct and deconstruct his histrionics. Sample the scene from Bhayaanak Panjaa (1997) in which he is being exorcised. It is sublime pantomime. And I just wanted that to rhyme. The technique of conveying emotions and feelings by the mere physicality of the actions is not something every thespian can master. But one look at Gajendra’s frenzied movement can make you immediately realise the years of hamheadeness that must have gone in perfecting that fall. Legendary.
Chauhan 1, World 0

The swagger comes naturally to the Chairman sir. And it is not just because he played Inspector Patil in Himmatvar (1996) or Mukesh Mathur in Vishwavidhata (1997) or Virendra Chaudhary in Arjun Devaa (2001) or Naresh Chand in Issi Life Mein…! (2010). These were, of course, author backed roles where he got the opportunity to stretch his awesome campiness to the fullest for those ten minutes that he was on screen. But the style and the charisma of the man is inherent to his schmaltzy Tank-Road-Jeans-Market self.
I didn't choose the thug life

To those questioning his acting abilities, I just have one answer two answers. Jungle Love (1986) and Rupa Rani Ramkali (2001). Ah, those consciously constipated expressions where death becomes him. That fierce fervour, those extreme emotions, the deadly deluge. And the arbitrary alliterations.
Real men don't die Somebody stop me

Haters gonna hate his religious baggage thanks to the Mahabharat connect, but Chauhan never actually has tried overtly exploiting his Pitashri-Matoshri affiliations. Apart from the yet to be released Barbareek aur Mahabharat and Jai Maa Vaishnodevi (1994), mouthing Ayushman bhavah at party meetings and selling some random concoction on teleshopping networks, that is. Of course, the performer in him has been more satisfied with challenging roles like playing Rahul’s father in International Khiladi (1999), Pinky’s dad in Billa no. 786 (2000) and the car salesman in Baghban (2003). And the Ganesh fest dancer in Parwana (2003). Of course.
I can haz FTIIJaanta nahin

And so what if he knows people in the reigning political party! Mr. Chairman has worked hard to be where he is right now. The tonsils are getting their due. And deservedly so.

Okay then

Eventually, history would judge Gajendra Chauhan on his performance as the FTII Chairman, protesters and wiseguys be damned. If not him, they would find another extremely talented Chauhan, suited perfectly for the job. So yeah. I just hope the hammer is restricted only to his acting skills while I gloat over my punnery.

“What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence”, said Ludwig Wittgenstein in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. He was right. Exactly why you must forget about them protests already. Think of this as a long movie, treat this as a willing suspension of disbelief, and all would be good. Also, please slip in the word ‘pedantic’ somewhere in here to close the intellectual loop. Thank you.

PS: And now, thank me. Here.

Will The Real Sunny Deol Please Stand Up?

I saw Singh Saab The Great. I was the only person at the theatre. Okay, that would be a little bit of an exaggeration because there were two ushers at the entrance. We also had three different couples of varying ages amongst the audience. Going by what they were up to, I am sure they must have watched all the films of Jackie Bhagnani and Mimoh Chakraborty as well at the same auditorium. But we are digressing already. I saw Singh Saab The Great. I was the only person at the theatre who was there to watch the film.

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Sunny Deol sang Jab Hum Jawan Honge in his debut film Betaab in 1983. Jab Hum Jawan Honge, Jaane Kehan Honge. Lekin Jehan Honge, Wahan Fariyaad Karenge. Prophetic words, these. Because Fariyaad Karenge became the raison d’être, the motto of the life and career of Sunny Deol in Hindi cinema. From Betaab till date. Fariyaad Karenge. Will appeal / complain/ grumble/ lament/ object/ protest/ oppose/ moan/ attack. Fariyaad Karenge, yes sir.

Not that he had any options. He was the son of the original He Man of Hindi Cinema. Besides, his contemporaries were Kumar Gaurav, Jackie Shroff, Anil Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt, and all of them had clearly defined profiles. Gaurav was the chocolate hero, Shroff was the rugged Mr. Goodlooking, Kapoor was the actor experimenting with his roles, and Dutt was the junkie non-actor. So the only choice baby Sunny had was to plunge into the cauldron full of magic potion and follow it up with his fariyaad, lots of it. And follow up he did in style. From Arjun to Dacait, from Border to Indian, from Zor to Ziddi and from Jo Bole So Nihal to Gadar. And everything else in between. Barring the Rajkumar Santoshi trilogy of Ghayal-Ghatak-Damini to some extent, Deol’s pulsating pectoral pictorials have been these mammoth exhalations of brute, brawn and brooding, meant essentially for the front benchers. And I say this as a very good thing.

With his Herculean abilities— physically speaking, that is— the scion of the Deol dynasty could actually achieve something truly Herculean in Bollywood. He carved a niche for himself with no dancing skills and limited acting expertise against the likes of Jeetendra, Mithun and Govinda in the 1980s. He competed with other action heroes like Ajay Devgan, Akshay Kumar and Sunil Shetty, and the Khan triumvirate, and still could create box office frenzy in the 1990s. And he gave the biggest hit of his career, Gadar, against everybody else in the industry in the early 2000s. All this, and more, through just the regular revisits of his grouse-grumble-groan formula again, and yet again. This was Ajay Singh Deol’s personal Bollywood, backed by three key directors, Rahul Rawail, Rajkumar Santoshi and Anil Sharma. The dhaai kilo ka haath, Balwant Rai ke kutte and ik mod aaya were incidental to his growth. Because it never was just about his looks, dialogues, mannerisms, songs or fights; but the Sunny Deol persona in totality. The entire career of Deol can be summed up as the longest running episode of MTV Roadies, complete with incessant machismo, chronic impetuousness and persistent chaos. And Punjab. Lots of it.

It was only in the latter half of the 2000s that the Deol magic started to diminish with duds like Naksha, Big Brother, Fox, Khuda Kasam or Teesri Aankh. His true fans, of course, would refuse to admit even now that Sunny Deol has not given a hit of Sunny Deol proportions in ages. They would still make the rounds of the cinema halls to count his muscles and uncount his expressions. Hell, they would insist that the real Ironman to deserve the largest statue in the world is Sunny Deol. But his hardcore fans would not count Apne and Yamla Pagla Deewana as Sunny Deol films either.

They miss the man who was their hero.

Back to what we started off with. I saw Singh Saab The Great. It was embarrassing to see Sunny Deol as a caricature of Sunny Deol, battling a rotund Prakash Raj with those trademark swish-swish Madras-remake moves. And the suspension of my disbelief collapsed gloomily. What I saw was a man in his 50s, trying to hold on to the vestiges of the past, and losing it all in the process. The angst was redundant. The anger was ill-placed. In one of the scenes from Singh Saab The Great, a kid asks Sunny, “Tuhaadi chaddi kitthe hai?”, referring, of course, to him as Superman. And this, specifically, is what has been Sunny Deol’s biggest failing in recent times.

In the heart of their hearts, his audiences never saw him as Superman. From Arjun to Kashi to Tara Singh, we saw his vulnerable side and we empathised with him. We associated with his helplessness against Katya in Ghatak, we understood his resentment for Chadha in Damini, we grieved over his love for Sakeena in Gadar. Because he was one of us. Louder, yes. More muscular, certainly. Guttural, absolutely. But real. And honest. This Anna Hazare-Bajirao Singham-Tara Singh mishmash called Saranjeet Singh seemed from some distant land. Singh Saab The Great isn’t one of us. He surely isn’t the Sunny Deol we know. Precisely why Singh Saab and his box office performance gather not our gentle empathy, but our dim indifference. Sad, because very few actors can get away with ‘The Great’ added to their screen persona.

And Sunny Deol will always be one of them.

(First published on outlookindia.com)

Pehle toh kabhi kabhi gham tha… And then came Altaf Raja!

These are bad times.

The economy does not look all that great. The drought situation is getting worse. Politicians continue to stay aloof and unaffected. Cricketers are getting fixed. Fixers are running cricket. Business leaders are getting their CFOs pregnant. Jackie Bhagnani is still acting.

These are really bad times.

Now, I know there is this terrible terrible urge to hang our heads in despair and feel hopelessly bad about our existences. It does come naturally to most of us, especially after seeing those Rangrezz posters. But you know what, life is not that black, despite how bleak things appear. One can either feel utterly depressed. Or, one can invoke the name of Altaf Raja to make it all disappear. Seriously.
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Altaf Raja who, do I hear? For those not in the know, Altaf Raja was the singular reason why the cassette players of the 1990s were mobbed, mauled and molested, day in and day out. Altaf Raja was the demi-god of the autodrivers, their secret man-crush, their muse. Altaf Raja was the snazzy sultan, the ritzy rajah that the entire B-grade population of India wanted to be. But to top it all, Altaf Raja was what kept the people across the country going, giving them hope and optimism, as they sung his songs in the trains, collecting monies for charity, in most cases their own charity.

The first half of the 90s was an exciting period in the life of India. The skies were opening up. The reforms were taking off. We were a bemused and overwhelmed nation, getting exposed to an MTV which played music and a Manmohan Singh who had a voice, amongst other things. The divide between the rich and the poor was beginning to get drastically wider. Rishi Kapoor was still wearing Woolmark-approved pure wool turtlenecks, dancing around trees, and Mithun Chakraborty was singing Gutar Gutar in Dalaal. Not that the last two statements had anything to do with each other.

It was during these times that Altaf Raja made an appearance in the Indian stratosphere. Tum toh thehre pardesi, saath kya nibhaoge, he said it on behalf of the country in his first album in 1996, mouthing the concern that the economic reforms were not to stay forever.  Subah pehli gaadi se ghar ko laut jaaoge, that is.

But then again, lest you misunderstand him, it was just a healthy expression of anxiety, and not pessimism. Considering in that very album, Altaf presented the enthusiasm and exuberance of the nation, willing to take on the world: Woh bhi anjaan thi, main bhi anjaan tha. Uss se vaada na tha, kuch iraada na tha. Bas yun hi darr-ling keh diya. Yaaron maine panga le liya. Panga Le Liya summed it up brilliantly. Pokharan-II, the Indian nuclear tests happened soon thereafter.

And THIS – the eternal understanding of his environment and its impact – is what makes Altaf Raja relevant all over again in our lives. Yes, the times are tough. From pathetic rapes to pitiable rappers, from a silent PM to an over-zealous wannabe, from Kalmadi’s fistulas to Kejriwal’s frictions, we have issues and diversions. But we need to embrace our surroundings. And wait. Patiently. Because that is the right thing to do. Thoda intezaar ka mazaa leejiye, sang our man in Shapath. That’s the mantra to live by. Wait and watch, and enjoy the downtime. All material conditions, positive or negative, are temporary. This, too, shall pass. Btw, for the fans of geriatric gyrations, the song has Jackie Shroff and Mithun Chakraborty shaking it with the ladies at the bar. That, too, did pass.

His teachings, though, are not restricted to just helping people cope with the larger issues. Altaf Raja has created many a sparkling gem that are relevant to us in our everyday lives across audiences. Even more so in this day and age, when everything around us is getting redefined and restructured. Refer to the lucidity with which he discusses the complexities of the gender roles and the set of social and behavioral norms that are considered appropriate in the context of the modern times. Biwi hai cheez sajawat ki. Biwi se ghar ko sajaate hain. Sautan ka shauq purana hai. Sautan ko sar pe bithate hain. Bharti nahin niyat sautan se. Sautan ki sautan late hain. Balle balle, oh yaara balle balle. Wow Yeah. Wow Yeah. Brilliantly put. Sajawat. Aesthetics. This is why the purists love him.

The most pertinent message of Altaf Raja for his audiences, however, is in this timeless creation called Kar Lo Pyaar. There are discords and disputes all over. Conflicts have divided the globe. The world is fighting a furious war with itself. And I just used three sentences with exactly the same meaning. Precisely the reason why the world needs to hear these immortal lines in his mellifluous voice. Kar lo pyaar, kar lo pyaar, kar lo pyaar, kar lo pyaar. Pyaar gazab ki cheez hai padh lo aaj subah ka parcha. Pyaar karoge muft mein ho jaayega yaaron charcha. This is poetry at exceptionally sublime levels. No other song in the world has EVER tried rhyming charcha with parcha.

Wikipedia says Altaf Raja has had a mix of twenty-three film and non-film albums so far. But none of this matters eventually. Because it is not about his songs or the albums. It is about the man. Who goes far beyond the songs or the albums or the hits or the platinum discs. Altaf Raja is a concept. He is the victory of the mundane over the elite, of penury over pomp, of the coarse over cultivated, and of hopes over realities.

Thank you for taking the panga, sir!

(Originally published on firstpost.com)

Why must you kill a Fine Flat Flute Pipe Petula Petula in time!

When I moved to Mumbai in the 90s, I had a singular agenda. I wanted to kill Aditya Narayan. He was fast turning into the resident kiddy voice of Bollywood, mouthing inanities like Atli Batli Chakhlo Chakhli Chakhlo Vadapao, Khao Jalebi Oh Baby, Babu Ko Bhi Lao and Sim Sim Pola Pola Sim Sim Pola, Fine Flat Flute Pipe Petula Petula, Drum Drum Tubelet Symbola Symbola on us unsuspecting victims, and his entire vocal fold oscillation system needed to be amputated for the greater good of the mankind. The idea was also to use the opportunity to steal all the pansy purple and ruby red bandmaster blazers owned by his dad Udit Narayan and then burn them with acid. After shredding them into a thousand little pieces, that is. Unfortunately, I could not quite succeed in my mission. I had to let the father-son duo live because one needed the Biharis in the city for Raj Thackeray to get angry at, later in our lives.

I live to regret my decision.

Because just when I thought Aditya’s larynx, pharynx and trachea had been tamed and converted into Udit Narayan without his moustache, being aptly utilized in Zee TV’s singing monstrosities, Narayan Jr. made a fresh comeback to Hindi Cinema with Vikram Bhatt’s Shaapit The Cursed, as the leading man, no less, which I caught on cable TV the other day. The film also had Rahul Dev playing Professor Pashupati, a professor of Paranormal Studies. So, yes, it was an intellectually stimulating work of art, indeed, as all the films made by all the Bhatts are. But we are digressing already. Twenty minutes into the movie, Aditya does this morbidly ecstatic dance of extreme elation with an umbrella, swaying his limbs like some spastic sex-toy on stimulating substances. I swear by my middle class gods I am not exaggerating this. He jumps with joy, he goes back and forth, he makes random circular motions. AND he kisses the umbrella like some hungry African kid just hitting puberty. All to express his love for some girl in leotards.

Exactly the point at which the nauseatingly exasperating memories of the past began to haunt me, frame by frame, shot by shot, sound by sound. Doobi Doobi Dub Dub. And what an onslaught it was. Of actors who were not meant to be heroes. Of heroes who were not meant to be in the movies. Of movies which were not meant to be in existence. Of existences that were… okay, I need to stop this. It was as if Bollywood’s bad chromosomes had suddenly decided to descend into my brains all at one go, punishing me for getting myself reintroduced to Mr. Narayan. Of course, I do realize that all film industries have good actors and bad actors, and Hindi film industry cannot be an exception. We have the histrionics and hysterics of Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and the likes. And then there are the better actors. But I don’t think any industry can flaunt as many also-rans and almost-rans as we do.

Back to the attack, though. The first set constituted of people who believed they had the right to plunder our posteriors with their plasticity because of their family connections. The list was extensive, endless and on-going. From Sunil Dutt’s brother Som Dutt (He debuted in Man Ka Meet along with a small time actor called Vinod Khanna who played the villain.) to Mahendra Kapoor’s son Rohan Kapoor (His father sang Mere Desh Ki Dharti, he danced to Oh Miss De De Kiss. Fair enough.) to Suneil Anand (Dev Anand’s numerically-adjusted son, trained extensively in Hong Kong under Grandmaster Sifu Leung Ting in Wing Tsun Kung Fu. Don’t blame me. Wikipedia says so.) to Uday Chopra and Kishan Kumar, the legendary brothers of Aditya Chopra and Gulshan Kumar respectively, to Faizal Khan (He acted with his brother Aamir Khan in Mela. Then they got separated. Mela. Saw what I did there?) and Sohail Khan (Salman Khan with a flatter face, flatter nostrils and flatter acting skills.) in recent times.

Then there were the independent invaders, the strugglers who got lucky enough to assault the viewers with their talent, or the lack of it. Legend has it that the theatres would erupt in wild applause when the 70s hero Anil Dhawan would get whacked by the villain Shatrughan Sinha. The decades that followed saw actors like Arun Govil (Of tobacco teeth and Maganlal Dresswala dhotis fame. Also Advani’s best friend.), Dheeraj Kumar (Debut film: Raaton Ka Raja. I rest my case.), Vijay Arora (Romanced with Zeenat Aman in Chura Liya and played Meghnad in Ramayan. Botched them up with equal earnestness.) and later Deepak Parashar, Deepak Malhotra (Famous last word: Pallo.), Inder Kumar, Avinash Wadhawan, Ronit Roy, Sudesh Berry, Vikas Bhalla, Hemant Birje and Chandrachur Singh at various points of times of our lives. A lot of these guys were resurrected later in their careers by Ekta Kapoor. That must be exciting.

The last category was that of the rich boys. Have money, will make movies. Cases in point: Harman Baweja (The robot dance moves of Love Story 2020 got rejected by the audiences. Which is why an Oscar nominated director made What’s Your Raashee with him.) and Jackie Bhagnani (F.A.L.T.U. and now Rangrezz). If you don’t have a rich father from the industry, get one from outside of it. Or so did convey Anuj Saxena (Heir to a mega pharma company. Heard of this film called Chase? Neither has he. He produced and acted in it.) and Sachin Joshi (Aazaan, Mumbai Mirror. Son of Gutkha King Jagdish Joshi. It shows.). The Naseer Khans and Kamaal R Khans of the world were next in line. Naseer, a supposedly partially-blind actor, made this film called Shadows. He was later put behind bars for some chit fund fraud, though I wish they had arrested him for this film. Kamaal R Khan made Deshdrohi, the sole reason why the North Indians believe the North Indians should be out of Mumbai.

Now imagine all these guys entering your mindspace one after the other in a never-ending space time continuum, displaying their mojos. From Kiran Kumar to Kush Sinha. From Mahendra Sandhu to Mimoh Chakraborty. As you simultaneously shed tears and witness the Aditya Narayan thingamajig on screen. Bad acting, awkward screen presence and a personality painful enough to give you haemorrhoids.

Yes. I wish I had taken care of the boy when he was younger. I am sure YOU do now. :)

(Had written this piece for Outlook magazine. That explains the length of the article. Or the lack of it.)