Sunday, November 22, 2009

Chaai.. chaai...

Tea (or Chai as it is known in India) is probably the most popular drink in the world. I always remember tea as a beverage that was meant to be drunk only during the evening hours (tea time as it is known at home). Somehow, tea was never prepared during other times, unless a guest preferred tea to coffee. Its preparation however was something weird (as I understood it later).

The process of making tea at home involved making 'tea decoction' - as if it was something like coffee! Boil water, then add tea powder (never used tea leaves at home, only tea dust), boil for some more time. Then filter it and add milk, sugar and serve. This is the way it has always prepared at home.

I always loved the tea-shop teas, which were thick by constant boiling of tea with milk. The thick tea with the masalas (cardamom and ginger) gave the liquid a whole new dimension making it more exotic and preferred.

However, it turns out that there is a lot of debate regarding the issue of making tea. This has been beautifully chronicled by George Orwell in the Evening Standard titled 'A Nice Cup of Tea' as early as 1946. In this, Orwell lists the method of making a perfect cup of tea, with specific do's and don'ts. The British, who popularised the custom of drinking tea in the West made it fashionable and an exercise of the upper class. Moreover, the subtleties of making tea, the drinking and the serving made it all the more exclusive during the Raj. Some of this has started again in India with increasing affluences and people seeking for something new to do. Tea sipping, tea tasting expeditions and tea-tourism are on the rise. There seems to be a market for Darjeeling teas that fetch $500/lb at auctions and a new breed of tea-tasters and experts similar to wine tasters.

However, there is nothing to beat the experiences of having a hot cup of chai with pakodas sitting on the veranda and reading the newspaper on a lazy Sunday; or standing under the tin sheet of a tea shop, drinking piping hot tea and eating buns.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What exactly is Indian Cinema?

Recently, I happened to attend a Japanese movie screening by the Asian Film Studies (Dept of Foreign Languages and Literature) called Dare mo shiranai (Nobody Knows). The movie was fantastic, with a very sensitive portrayal of children and how they fend for themselves when their single parent flees with her boyfriend. This movie will make Taare Zameen Par look like an amateur effort both in the acting categories and predictable story lines. This post is not about that movie but what happened after the screening.

The Professor in charge of the series was interested in screening an Indian movie every month. The themes are Romance, Musical and Comedy for February, March and April respectively. The problem is that all Indian movies think that they are musicals and romances rolled into one! Also, the subtitling and captioning is so terrible that they seem to be an afterthought rather than having been thought out carefully by the scriptwriter. Also, the nuances in dialogues and expressions, customs and traditions are invariable lost in translation.

Also, do the Shah Rukh - Aamir Khan films such as Rab Ne, Om Shanti Om, KKHH, and Dil Chahta Hai portray the real India? Or is it then starkly realistic films such as Ray's trilogy? Or Deepa Mehta's movies which we Indians consider a blemish on our culture?

I am not saying that there exist no such movies but I will leave you to think about movies adhering to these themes that you would like shown to an international audience without making fools of ourselves. I dread to think what can be shown for a war movie? Border? Gadar? Lakshya? Huh... Is that all we can manage after continuous fighting for 60 years?

(P.S: After a lot of brainstorming, my roommate and I chose Dor, Parineeta and Munnabhai MBBS for the 3 slots. Dor for its richness in portrayal of India and the nice storyline, Parineeta for the portrayal of Indian customs and color associated in the film, and Munnabhai for its comedy, though I have a feeling that the subtitles will not send anyone to fits of laughter. What movies would you have chosen?)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

To HGW XX/7, with gratitude

Only seldom do we see a movie where we 'ooh' and 'aah' at the end and walk out of the movie hall pleased. And only once in a blue moon come those movies which leaves you mesmerized; no words can express the feeling you experience - exhilaration? happiness? bliss? I don't know!

The last time a movie's climactic scene left me in such a state was probably 'The Prestige' and the last such book was 'Vamshavrikhsa'. Yesterday, it was the outstanding movie 'The Lives of Others' (German:Das Leben der Anderen, starring Ulrich Mühe and Martina Gedeck) that left me failing for words.

The setting is in the Cold War days of totalitarian East Germany (GDR). The scene begins in 1984 (I thought this was a fantastic tribute to George Orwell's novel 1984!). Without revealing too much about the nitty gritty details, the plot revolves around the surveillence in GDR, how no one, not even the elite and trusted were spared. The Stasi (secret police) captain in charge of the covert surveillence of the pro-party writer Georg Dreyman (codenamed Lazlo) is Gerd Wiesler(played by the brilliant Ulrich Mühe). A pivotal role is played by Dreyman's girlfriend Crista-Maria Sieland (codenamed CMS played by Martina Gedeck of 'Mostly Martha' fame).

The loyal Stasi officer, in the course of the surveilance, experiences a complete change in his belief in the state. He understands that there is a devious motive behind the spying rather than 'state security' as announced. He becomes disillusioned in his nature of work, the The change in his character is one of the best parts of the movie.

I thought the movie was ending with the death of a principal character. No. It continues. Then I thought it was going to end at the Fall of the Berlin Wall. An ending here would have made it a great movie. But it is what continues after this that elevates this movie to a new level. The last few minutes of the movie are fascinating and truly marvelous! This is what is a truly rewarding movie watching experience according to me.

There are innumerable other small things that make this movie what it is. The surveillance equipment is all genuine - from collectors who have preserved it as it was. Ulrich Mühe himself was a subject of spying in the GDR. He recounts that he found out only later about his friends and colleagues who were spying on him. In fact, my belief that great movies can still win the Oscar has been revived since this movie won it in 2006 in the Foreign Film category. We can stop sending entries from India if they have to compete at this level!

Oh...and the title of this post is one of the most beautiful things about this movie. To understand its significance, watch the movie. I just can't praise it enough.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bollywood Padmashris

We are probably the only country that showers our citizens with awards - for nothing actually. The awards are bestowed for a variety of reasons - based on recommendations, caste reservations, regional and linguistic quotas, etc but only occasionally on merit or service rendered.

In the latest incident, we have decided to honour 2 film actors, and a non-entity businessman while neglecting sportsmen who really made India proud at the Olympics. Now what are the criteria for selecting these candidates? Is it just recommendation by some influential panelist or a "family-friend MP" or the media lobby that fetches you these awards? Whatever it is, these people have desecrated the high honor of the award. By accepting such awards, those who deservedly got it will have their names written on the same roster as these celebrities. As Bannanje Govindacharya who received this award this year said,
"I had not expected the award nor desired it. I got it accidentally.... I will carry on my work as usual".
Unless such people object to these committees saying that they do not want to spoil their stellar reputation by adding their names to the same list, this ridiculous hoopla will not end.