Friday, March 28, 2008

Judge not lest thou be judged.

Why am I in a frothing-at-the-mouth Old Testament rage? Well, if you’ve ever had the misfortune of watching the antics of the so-called expert judges on the countless musical and talent contests that try to elbow one another for TRP, you’ll know the reason. I have nothing against the poor contestants many of whom are brimming with talent. I’m annoyed by the judges. Most of them are lapsed or out-of-work cine artistes. They’re delighted to get paid to be in the limelight once again and hear the sound of their voice as they mouth inane, infantile comments and hand out credits mostly based on their prejudices and personal whims and fancies. I shudder to think what would have happened had Baby Noor Jahan entered one of these contests and sang her high-pitched, slightly off-key hit “Shala Jawaniya Mane Afsaana Meri Sun Le” from Gul Bakawali (1939)? All hell would have broken loose, I’m afraid. The venerable judges would have brayed for her blood because she sang shrilly and off-key reducing the poor girl to tears. If you ever listen to the song in question, you’ll realise that its charm derives principally from the singer’s style. I’m looking forward to the day when one of the contestants slaps the judge instead of abjectly touching his or her feet. Do it, baby. Make my day.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Genre: Pulp Fiction. Avatar: Marathi.

During my childhood at 233 Khetwadi Main Road, I used to be addicted to Marathi pulp fiction written by the Arnalkar Brothers (Baburao and Madhulkar). They used to run an optician’s shop in Girgaon. Their books (average length about 150 pocket book sized pages) used to come out every month with clockwork regularity. They were like a two-man pulp fiction factory. I used to be a member of a whole-in-the-wall library next to the Central Cinema, diagonally across the Girgaon Portuguese Church. It was called Gokharkar Library. All their books and magazines used to be covered in a slip binding of thick brown paper stitched on to the spine. I remember some of the continuing characters in the various Arnalkar-authored series: the detective duo, Dhananjay and Chottu (literally “the little one”), Zunjar (“the fighter”) modeled – if memory serves – on the Saint, and the bhel-gobbling newspaper reporter-cum-investigator, Sanjay. I even remember seeing a Dhananjay movie produced by C Ramchandra, the well-known Hindi film music composer in which he acted the main role with Bhagwan as Chottu in the late fifties or early sixties. What the storyline was, I cannot recall, though. At there’s an interesting thread on the same topic. The catch is, you have to know Marathi to read it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ho – hum!

Too much solemnity makes Charles Morgan a dull and drab writer. Charles Langbridge Morgan, to be precise. This Brit writes well enough but the tone of voice and the whole mood of his play, The Burning Glass (1953), gave me a sense of deep unease, almost malaise. I find it difficult to believe that anyone could write with such deadly seriousness continuously with nary a half smile for relief. It’s no wonder his work has been neglected by and large. His sensibility and views to me seem conservative and of the extreme Right. The biographical sketch at the website dedicated to him mentions that he was a fan of Churchill apart from “the Book of Common Prayer, Keats’s letters, and the prose of Addison”. That kind of makes eminent sense when you’re reading him. He must have been a melancholy introvert, I reckon. He appears to be uncomfortable in his surroundings and sometimes within his own skin, if you get what I mean. His The Burning Glass I happened to read in an abridged version “adapted” for adult readers whose second language is English. I happened to find it lurking in a stack of old books. I hope Jennifer Taylor who worked on the adaptation did full justice to his style and flavour. This humourless play – no apology for this priceless aside: I came across a Daily Mail news story (11-03-2008) headlined ‘The cheek! Humourless American says we Brits are miserable. You've gotta laugh’, about travel writer Eric Weiner’s claim that the Brits “don’t merely enjoy misery – they get off on it” – is about the moral dilemma of a weather control scientist. He has accidentally stumbled upon a way to set his weather machine so that it can concentrate the solar heat and aim it at any target to wreak total destruction. Both he and his wife are – you guessed it! – paragons of virtue. His partner is not. He is a rebel and keeps bad company. At the height of the Cold War, he refuses to part with his knowledge to the Briish PM. The worthy seems to be no Churchill and accepts his terms that he or his wife would only “set” Machine Six to do the dirty work in case of an attack by the opposition. There is an East German spy lurking in the neighbourhood. He kidnaps the straight-laced paragon of virtue. In his absence, the equally straight-laced Paragon No.2 “sets” Machine Six in order to strike the fear of God in the atheist Commie hearts with proof that Britain has the ultimate weapon and won’t hesitate to use it under extreme provocation. Paragon No.1 is released and all ends well, except for the death of his partner. Ho-hum! Were the pre-Hiroshima Einstein and Oppenheimer his inspiration?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

I’m curious. Yellow.

In my childhood and youth, I never could understand why RK Karanjia’s “Free, Frank & Fearless” Blitz – the tabloid weekly that invented stings, investigative exposés, scoops – even April Fool hoaxes – way, way before Tehlka – and Google respectively, DF Karaka’s Current and Baburao Patel’s Filmindia were called “yellow” journals. I used to read – at least browse through – all of them. I was too naïve to realise that the term referred to journalism that exploited, distorted or exaggerated the news to create sensation and lure readers, scandal-mongering being one of the favourite ruse in use. If this description is true, I guess all newspapers of today including The (erstwhile) Grand Old Lady of Bori Bunder qualify for inclusion as of now. I recall that I used to read Filmindia (later replaced by the political magazine, Mother India) at the house of my aunty who used to stay in Nowroji Street which is quite close to where I now stay. My cousins were quite keen on Hindi movies and used to get Screen which was principally a trade weekly as well. I’m sure I didn’t understand the point of the (what was then considered) naughty Filmindia stuff but still persisted in reading it. Recently, at,9171,772751,00.html?promoid=googlep, I found an excerpt from his Q&A column. Here are a few examples of his wit and witticisms:

Q. Are there any raw-film manufacturers in India?
A. No. But we have directors who expose the film and make it look more raw than ever before.

Q. I hear bad rumors about Director Shantaram. Every man from Poona and Bombay says that Shantaram has done such & such a thing. I am sure that he is not a person to do such a thing. I think that Mr. Shantaram is aware of his fame and would not have done that thing. So you must tell the public that Shantaram is innocent by publishing his innocence in the next issue.
A. And I must also publish my innocence about what you are talking.

Q. Please tell me, which is the easiest way to get a job in a film company?
A. Get hold of the most attractive girl in your town and bring her to a film studio. . . . The other way is rather roundabout.

According to Bhawana Somaaya Baburao Patel (née Patil), the self-taught son of a well-known lawyer, was “the most hated and also the most sought-after journalist in show business”. She writes: “It was said that Baburao’s column made and broke careers. Filmmakers dreaded his acid reviews of their films, for his comments invariably proved true at the box-office.” Dev Anand reiterates Somaaya’s verdict on Patel’s power and influence. Prithviraj Kapoor whom Baburao called one of the “uncouth brawny Pathans who think they can make it as actors" and saw no place for him in the film industry proved him wrong. So did V Shantaram whose Navrang (1959) Baburao panned as “mental masturbation of a senile soul” but which turned out to be a big box office hit. In retrospect, Patel’s comments in the excerpts quoted above seem trite and tame and jaundiced. His language seems stilted and jaded. Maybe because I’m trying to apply today’s standards to a journalist from the past.

By the way, I found another gem of his cited at

Q. Why do you have two wives?
A. What is going of your father? Ram Jethmalani when asked by a person personally whether his first wife is happy despite his having a second wife. He answered – Yes my first wife is happier than your only wife.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Existential coffee-making.

Idle query: Had Jean-Paul with his pipe clenched firmly in his teeth stood in front of a microwave oven to make instant coffee and peered myopically at the seconds ticking backwards on the LCD clock dial, would he have cracked the existential riddle: pre-reflective consciousness, free will and whatever else it might be? I doubt it. Any attempt to describe, understand, historicize the thing-in-itself – coffee in the making, LCD clock marking time backwards, etc. – Sartre would have termed "reflective consciousness". By the time the coffee was ready and the micro beeped its customary warning, his concentration would have been broken and he would have hurriedly pressed the open button. After which the aroma would have completely shattered the spell of his existential reverie. Actually, my whole staging of his hypothetical thinking process is faulty, as you must have noticed. Being a true Frenchman with an Algerian mistress who later became his adopted daughter, Jean-Paul would probably have insisted on the real thing. No instant stuff, merci beaucoup. "I put instant coffee in a microwave and almost went back in time," wrote a bloke called Steven Wright. “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” is the fifty-first line in the lament – er, love song – of another curious bloke called J. Alfred Prufrock who earlier on in the poem (line 34) shows a distinct preference for “tea and toast” and a scant 45 lines later (line 79) changes his fickle mind in favour of “tea and cakes and ices”. He keeps reiterating his strong leaning toward tea in lines 88 and 102, though. This leads us to an important question worth pausing and pondering. Why should the treacherous teatotaler (who may or may not be a teetotaler) have access to a coffee spoon even if the scoundrel professes to use it only to measure out his life with? Pray tell, after a reflective sip of instant coffee.