Friday, 12 September 2014

Book Review - Korma, Kheer and Kismet by Pamela Timms

Food has been a favourite topic for writers and bloggers lately. There are reasons for it; it’s easy to connect with food, everyone has a food memory to share and it’s something that people can never get enough of. Food writing is now not limited to just blogs, there are regular newspaper columns and books with people writing about their favourite food memory, their cooking preferences, their kitchen essentials etc. etc. More and more bloggers/food journalists are publishing their books. The question is, is the content good enough to deserve it’s own book? My opinion would be no, not in all cases. Especially not when there are random memories which do not add anything to my reading experience.

Thankfully, Pamela Timms’ Korma, Kheer and Kismet doesn’t fall in that category. Pamela, a food blogger writes a column in Mint Lounge and the book is about her street food experiences in Old Delhi. It starts with a ghee laden, spicy mutton korma at Ashok and Ashok - the description of the food leaves you hungry and ends with the mysterious daulat ki chat - I faintly remember eating its Lucknowi version makkhan malai as a kid. The book is studded with recipes which is a bonus.

Every street food shop, dish comes with a back story or a memory which is fascinating. The best two chapters are the ones about mutton korma and daulat ki chat because of all the mystery surrounding these two legendary dishes of Delhi. The chapters with food and its history make for a more interesting read. Rest of it sounds like a day in the life of a regular small town Indian. Whether it’s celebrating Diwali in a joint family or buying vegetables from a market instead of a mall. A younger, mall loving urban generation will definitely find these stories exotic.

Old Delhi has always made for a charming premise for a book, be it food or history. Authors have always loved describing the old city’s dusty roads, crowd and chaos. So does Pamela when she visits the street side shops to try her favourite food. But she bumps into a cart, avoids kids running after a kite, almost steps into a puddle a little too much making it a tedious read at times. And one element that’s missing is humour. While there are glimpses of it she never goes all out to make you chuckle. I understand that it’s not the genre she is looking for but we can all do with good food and good laugh.

Ignore the few repetitions and Korma, Kheer And Kismet is a good, light read. Especially for the food lovers.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Doordarshan - The Days Of Yore

Emmy (Awards to celebrate TV Series of the West) just got over and left me thinking about the television scene in India. Will we ever create television content which will be globally acclaimed or an industry worthy of an award show of its own? Then I realized, we already did? We created a history of great television shows in 80s and 90s. Sadly, there were no awards then.

The TV shows of that era were created by the likes of BR Chopra (Mahabharat), Gulzar (Mirza Ghalib) and Shyam Benegal (Bharat Ek Khoj) where everything was minutely sketched out, even the opening and end credits. A 13 episode series had more powerful story to tell than the soap operas of today which run for five years. The directors and producers turned to literature for content which took authors from book shelves to TV screens. Some of them introduced us to various cultures across the country.

The actors too were NSD (National School Of Drama) and FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) pass outs who made the characters real and believable. It was the time when film actors too did not hesitate from appearing on TV, and it wasn't to promote their upcoming films.

These shows are etched in our memories and many nostalgic odes have been written for them. However, most of them talk about the famous ones like Ramayan (1987-88), Mahabharat (1988-90), Hum Log (1984-85), Buniyad (1986), Ye Jo Hai Zindagi (1984), Nukkad (1986-88), Malgudi Days etc. Here's a list of the less written about fiction TV shows of the yore, some that I remember and some that I recalled while searching on the net. While some of them had great content, direction and production value others got us hooked purely because of the novelty factor and diverse genres.

Mirza Ghalib (1988)
This show is not less written about, given that it was directed by the legendary Gulzar and with another legend Naseeruddin Shah portraying the title role. I've read somewhere that Naseeruddin Shah wanted to play the great Urdu poet, but Gulzar's first choice was Sanjeev Kumar. The duo shared great chemistry and had given classics like Koshish, Angoor and Parichay. Unfortunately, Sanjeev Kumar passed away and the role fell in Naseeruddin Shah's lap who immortalized the character. The story followed Mirza Ghalib's life, his marriage to Umrao Begum played by Tanvi Azmi and his alleged affair with courtesan Nawab Jaan played by Neena Gupta. Shafi Inamdar essayed the role of Mir Taqi Mir, another great poet of the Mughal era.

Mirza Ghalib introduced me to crisp Urdu shayari even though I was too young to understand it. Ghalib’s ghazals and nazms were composed and voiced by Jagjit and Chitra Singh.

Bharat Ek Khoj (1988)
I've always thought that Bharat Ek Khoj directed by Shyam Benegal is the benchmark for television content creation. The series was based on Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru's book The Discovery Of India which traces 5000 years of Indian history in a dramatic way. Tales of Mahabharat, Ramayan, Chanakya, Ashoka The Great, Kalidas, Akbar, Shivaji were all portrayed by the likes of Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Tom Alter and Kulbhushan Kharbanda. The narration by Roshan Seth who played Nehru (he also played Nehru in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi) made the book completely transpire on screen. The title track with its Sanskrit chant and haunting score still remains one of my favourites. 

The Sword Of Tipu Sultan (1990-91)
Way before when creating magnum opus for television became a thing, Sanjay Khan created history with his saga based on the book by Bhagwan Gidwani. The serial introduced us to the great warrior and king of Mysore, Tipu Sultan. It was grand with elaborate sets, tight script and some really good acting. The music was composed by Naushad; I still remember the title track.

Kile Ka Rahasya (1989)
Ye hai abhishapt kila...
sadiyon purana...
bhool kar bhi isme mat jaana...

This tune followed by a woman's scream on television every Tueday night was clue for my sister and me to run in the bedroom, hide under the blanket and sleep. From what I recollect the story was about a haunted kila (fort) where people would get lost, walk out with a hand print of blood on their backs and other such spooky stuff. While the end of Kile Ka Rahasya was a bit disappointing, the title track was haunting enough to spook the hell out of us. I don't remember the actors except for Veerendra Saxena (remember Jassi's dad in Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin?). There's not much info on the net about the director, producer or the plot either.

Reporter (Late 80s)
Way before Shekhar Suman became famous for his rib tickling comedies, he did some serious roles in films and television. His serial Reporter was one of them where he played a crime reporter cum detective on a lookout for stories who ended up solving those crimes at the end of the day. Makrand Deshpande played a key role of Shekhar Suman’s informer with a love for sandwiches.

Tehkikat (1994-95)
Easily the second most popular detective series after Byomkesh Bakshi, Tehkikat was directed by Shekhar Kapoor and Karan Razdan. The detective duo Sam D’silva (Vijay Anand) and Gopichand (Saurabh Shukla) were a humourous take on Sherlock Homes and Dr. Watson. 

Space City Sigma (1989)
Our very first sci-fi TV show, Sigma was inspired by Start Trek; I don't clearly remember. The show was full of mysterious space elements and desi versions of Captain Kirk and Spock. Space City Sigma fascinated all of us 80s kids who hadn't watched Star Trek yet.

You can read more about it here.

Indradhanush (1988-89)
I vaguely remember Indradhanush, a sci-fi cum fiction series which got the kids hooked. All I remember is that the show involved a bunch of school kids, computer (which was a huge deal then) and time machine. Karan Johar, the famous Bollywood director, was also part of the cast.

Mr. Yogi (Late 80s)
"I am Y.I. Patel, Yogesh Patel", is how Mr. Yogi played by Mohan Gokhale introduced himself to his would be brides. One of the best television comedies, the show was about an NRI Yogesh Patel meeting 12 girls of different Zodiac signs to find his perfect match. Om Puri played the sutradhar or narrator who took Mr. Yogi's story forward.

The show was hilarious with new and quirky characters in every episode. I also remeber watching the cake fight for the first time in this series. Years later Ashutosh Gowarikar made a movie What's Your Rashee based on the same concept. The TV serieal and film both were based on Madhu Rye's book Kimball Ravenswood.

Gul Gulshan Gulfaam (1991)
While researching for this post I asked people on Twitter what they remember from the TV shows of 80s and 90s. @nrucho (Nrupal Choudhari) replied saying that he remembered Gul Gulshan Gulfaam for it introduced him to Kashmiri words, kahwa (Kashmiri tea) and kangdi (earthen pot with coal to keep yourself warm). I too remember the show purely for these reasons. Shot on location, the show took us to the lovely valley, lakes and houseboats.

It was the story of a family making their living with houseboats and how terrorism affects their profession. The sons of the family decide to move out of Kashmir for a better life which creates a divide in the family. Parikshit Sahni, Radha Seth, Kanwaljeet, Pankaj Berry, Kunal Khemu played the lead roles.

Lifeline (1987)
Way before Grey's Anatomy got us hooked with all that melodrama in hospital wings or House got us confused with all the medical terminology, Indian television had Lifeline. Based on the lives of doctors and the relationships between doctors and patients, the show was genuine with least amount of melodrama. There were many stories inter weaved and new characters and cases kept coming and going.

The srong cast included A.K. Hangal, Pankaj Kapur, K.K. Raina, Ila Arun, Tanvi Azmi, Mohan Joshi, Renuka Shahane and was directed by Vijaya Mehta.

My only memory of this show was of the very gorgeous Kanwaljeet grabbing an unsuspectin Deepika Deshpande and kissing her. So, while researching for this post I found the series online and watched it again. Only to redevelop a major crush on Kanwaljeet's Azar Nawab. Suave, dapper, dressed in tailor-made suits and cravats; he was the man of our teenage dreams.

The show was based on Rafia Amin's book Alampanah. Aiman Shahab (Deepika Deshpande) arrives in Hyderabad as an assistant to an old begum. In the old haveli Aiman finds hidden secrets, false prides, diminishing culture, some friends and begum's son Azar Nawab.

The serial didn't have the garishness and exaggeration that usually represents the nawabi culture in films. The poetic charm of the old city, crisp Urdu and authentic locations kept it real. And above all, the love-hate relationship and Mills And Boons like romance between Azar Nawab and wide eyed Aiman was a major draw. Kanwaljeet's Azar Nawab was dark, brooding, complex but upright; he was our original Christian Grey with great sensuality and minus all the kink.

You can watch all the episodes here.

Another brilliant show based on the life of a trainee in Indian Navy, played by Pallavi Joshi, her struggles, friendships and relationships. The cast included Girish Malik, Harsh Chhaya, Shefali Patel (then Shetty), Tarun Dhanrajgir and R Madhavan in a small role. Sadly. the serial was never concluded.

Mitti Ke Rang
The title track of this serial is so fresh in my mind that I can hum it even now. Based on Mohan Rakesh's short stories, Mitti Ke Rang had a new story every week. These stories were of common people, their lives, hopes, despair, loneliness and all sorts of emotions.

Dekh Bhai Dekh (1993)
If Basesars of Hum Log was our favourite dramatic family, Diwans of Dekh Bhai Dekh was the most loved comic family. Whether it was Farida Jalal's confused Suhasini bhabhi, Bhavna Balsawar's crazy chachi or Shekhar Suman's fun chachu aka Samir, they all made us roll with laughter. And who can forget the adorable Kareema (Deven Bhojani) with his halwe jaise gal, button jaisi aankhen.

The show was mostly shot inside the Diwan house where all the madness took place. There were new characters (mostly Liliput in different avatars) introduced in every episode which added to the craziness. 

The opening credits of the serial had all the actors, dressed like their respective characters, walking towards the camera. The track "swaraj chahiye, swaraj chahiye. Marte dum tak humein, swaraj chahiye", playing in the background would set the tone of the whole serial which was just brilliantly written.

Swaraj was one of the best television content made on the lives of Indian revolutionaries like Chandrashekhar Azad, Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Ramprasad Bismil, Ashfaque Ulla Khan, Sukhdev and more. The serial had a tight script never losing track of the main story and characters. Unlike films based on the same subject, the makers of Swaraj never used romance and melodrama to popularise it. The actors were mostly newcomers and fresh NSD and FTII graduates who played there roles to the T. Rajesh Shringarpure (Sarkar Raj fame) essayed the role of Bhagat Singh while Ravi Gosai played Chadrashekhar Azad.

Amravati Ki Kathayen - Directed by Shyam Benegal, the series was based on Sahitya Academy Award winning stories.

Ek Tha Rusty - Based on Ruskin Bond's The Room On The Roof. Cast included Raj Zutshi and Bhanu Uday.

Chekhov Ki Duniya - Based on Anton Chekhov's stories, this series was directed by the Delhi theatre veteran Rajat Kapoor (who also co-wrote Jaane Bhi Do Yaron)

Pachpan Khambe Laal Diware - Based on the novel of same name by Usha Priyamvada with Mita Vashishth and Aman Verma in lead roles.

School Days - It was termed as the DD version of Hip Hip Hurray which ran parallel on Zee TV. Since I didn't have cable connection at home I watched it every Sunday morning. It was a cool show with school kids fighting over girls, leadership, sports etc. etc. Later they introduced another school and added more characters. Don't remember how it ended exactly.

There's not much info on the net on most of these serials and there are so many more like Hum Panchi Ek Daal Ke, Mujrim Hazir, Sukanya etc. just lost due to neglect. We can just hope that Doordarshan does something to bring the good serials back, release them on DVDs or just post them on youtube.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

#ReadABook - The Dalai Lama's Cat by David Michie

Around two years ago I signed up for a book review program with a well known website. As a part of this program I would sign up to review books every time they had a new one out, receive it in the next couple of days if selected, read the book and post a 500 word review within 7 days. While it sounded exciting to get new books in exchange for just a blog post (and I reviewed quite a few books), I found my interest dwindling. I am not a speed reader. I take my own sweet time between travel to and from work to finish a book. So, I stopped. The main reason was spending time and energy reading below average books while I have a whole wishlist of brilliant books to read. 

So I decided to continue writing about books, but the ones that I love and would recommend to fellow readers. The first book of the series is The Dalai Lama's Cat written by David Michie.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Summer Heat and a Pile of Comics

While scrolling through my twitter timeline casually in the morning I read about the death of Pran Kumar Sharma, India's popular cartoonist better known as the creator of Chacha Chaudhary. Soon there were obituaries; people remembering their comic reading days, their favourite Pran characters and comics. I couldn't stop myself from revisiting the good old days of summer holidays spent reading the pile of comics, again and again.

I grew up in a small city where foreign comics like Archie, Hardy Boys, Marvel etc. hadn't penetrated the market yet. We grew up on a steady dose of Diamond and Raj comics. More of former than latter because of the pure innocence of the characters and stories. Parag, Champak, Nandan, Samrat and Tinkle made for perfect children’s magazines. 

It was an ideal summer holiday which started with buying a stash of Chacha Chaudhary, Billoo and Pinky comics or even better, renting them out from the local library. Even in my Nana-Nani’s village, where we’d go to spend a month, there was a shelf dedicated to our comics and books. I would read them repeatedly, year after year.

The comics that Pran wrote weren’t complicated. They didn’t include flying heroes or dark villians, except Raka. His characters had their traits and well defined ones; Sabu’s anger which made volcanos burst or Chacha Chaudhary’s mind which worked faster than computer. Pinky’s knack for notority was lovable and her neighbour Jhapatji’s frustration was real. The thieves always had black stripes on their faces and Bajrangi Pehelwan would always wear a checkered lungi.

The jokes were silly but I still loved them. The stories linear but kept me interested. It was all a part of my growing up years. And then, I grew up. Moved on to international comics, Calvin and Hobbs and Harry Potters. But a part of me still wanted to go back and read those comics. A part of me still wanted to know about Sabu’s family on Jupiter, see Billoo’s face behind those hair and whether Raka will finally die or not. I guess it’ll remain a mistry now. RIP Pran.

Friday, 7 March 2014

300 Rise Of An Empire – Movie review

This review was first published on Know Your City, burrp!'s features section.

Director: Noam Murro

Cast: Sullivon Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro

b! Says: **1/2

Chiseled bodies, an army of roaring Spartans, drop dead gorgeous Gerard Butler and blood soaked wars; this is what 300, released in 2006, was made of. The sequel, 300 Rise Of An Empire portrays the war beautifully but lacks the rest of the elements.

Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel Xerxes, this chapter follows the story of Greek general Themistokles (Sullivon Stapleton) who takes on the Persian God king Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santoro) navy lead by Artemesia (Eva Green), their vengeful commander. The war in the sea runs parallel to the Spartan leader Leonidas marching with his 300 men to meet the army of Xerxes.

Unlike its prequel, 300 Rise Of An Empire has been shot in 3D but doesn’t do complete justice to the technology. However, some shots are brilliantly captured. There’s this same hazy, dark look to the movie which was there in 300 too. Almost all the film is based in the sea and there are some really spectacular underwater shots.

There’s a lot of blood and gore shot with stop motion camera. This has been the USP of the franchise and is consistent in both the films. However, there’s no newness about it. You yearn for something more maddening in the film.

The most interesting part of the film is the story of Xerxes and we wish there was more of him. The comparisons between Gerard Butler and Sullivon Stapleton are bound to be drawn and if you do you’ll always find the latter a tad weaker. Lena Headey fits in her role of Spartan queen like a glove, more so after portraying the role of scheming queen Cersei Lannister in Game Of Thrones. Eva Green looks both beautiful and evil as Artemesia.

Director Noam Murro creates good visuals but falls short on creating the same magic as Zack Snyder, the director of 300. There’s not enough adrenaline rush which is required for a film like this.

300 Rise Of An Empire is a good one time watch only if you keep the comparisons at bay.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Dallas Buyers Club - Movie Review

This review was first published on Know Your City, burrp!'s features section.

Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto

Rating: ****

When Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia released in 1993, HIV/AIDS was still a closeted disease. In 2014 there’s much more information about the deadly virus and lesser apprehensions. While Tom Hanks’ Andrew Beckett in Philadelphia fought against the discrimination of HIV patients, Matthew McConaughey’s Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club fights for something more basic, their right to survive through medicines.

Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), an electrician and hustler in 1985’s Texas, is happy with his manliness; attracted to women, alcohol and drugs. So when he is accidentally diagnosed HIV positive he violently proclaims that he isn’t a "faggot" and walks out showing a middle finger to the doctors. Reality strikes him in next few hours when his friends and colleagues steer away from him.

His homophobia loses its ugly face when he starts Dallas Buyers Club with Rayon (Jared Leto), a drag queen and HIV patient. He works his way around the system to sell medication to HIV patients; drugs that are not approved by the US Food And Drug Administration (FDA). Doctor Eve (Jennifer Garner), who doesn’t approve of the testing of HIV drugs on her patients, supports Woodroof.

Dallas Buyers Club treads a zone which is still a taboo in India; homosexuality and AIDS. Hence the struggle still makes sense here if not in America. While the film never gets preachy, it’s intense at times. The numerous medical references, drugs, alcohol make it a heavy watch but Woodroof and Rayon provide for some lighter moments too.

Jared Leto excels as a tormented man hidden beneath layers of makeup, shiny lipstick and colourful attire. Jennifer Garner is convincing in easily one of her best performances. As a quiet supporter of Woodroof’s initiatives, she underplays Eve well.

Mathew McConaughey stands tall carrying almost the whole film on his lean (he lost tremendous amount of weight for the film) shoulders. He portrays the frustrations, longings and determination of an HIV patient aptly especially in the scene where he breaks down in his car. As an audience your emotions for his character grow from pity to sympathy and finally appreciation. It’s unbelievable to see a rom-com star delivering one of the most Oscar worthy performances this year. If you couldn’t forget McConaughey’s hard hitting 5 minute role in The Wolf Of Wall Street then you must watch Dallas Buyers Club.


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