Friday, March 06, 2015

A Singular Loss

Movies in multiplexes are the new reality in India. But somewhere, the charm of the single screen theater is being lost. That's the offbeat topic I pursued for this month's publication.
My commentary on the romance of the single screen theater in this month's Spark magazine. Read on!


A Singular Loss


Picture this: You enter an extravagantly designed and elegantly lit space that promises you an out-of-the-world experience with all the comforts that it can offer – from huge, plush seats to sturdy carpets to heartwarming fragrances. As you stand and look around, to your left you find a screen playing an action movie where the hero leaps into the air, kicks three baddies at one time, and in slow motion, descends back to earth, all the while achieving the improbable goal of keeping his sunglasses on. To your right is a movie by an auteur where drops of water drip one by one to the floor while the heroine who couldn't care less about water conservation, keeps staring vacantly outside the window for no apparent reason. Walk straight and you run into the latest Hollywood blockbuster, transferring precious money to studios abroad. Well, it doesn't take long to realise that this is the place for movies of all ranges, for all ages.
Welcome to the world of the multiplex theater in India – a large complex with a honeycomb of theaters or screens, as they are fashionably referred to, showing a movie for each palate.
Clearly, we are in the midst of a revolution. A revolution in the movie-watching experience. But every revolution has its casualties. Where multiplexes are becoming the norm, single screen theaters have been pushed under the bus.
Ah, yes, the single screen theater. The long-standing bastion of cinema-viewing experience. The church where cinemaphiles of all classes would congregate to immerse themselves in a world alien to them. Those landmarks in cities, those modes of escape from the real world that held sway in India for over eight decades. Yes, the single screen theater.
A movie theater from the olden days would have concepts alien to the modern-day movie-goer. A single screen theater in India of  reasonable size would come with a categorization of seats that you don’t find anymore. There would be the stalls – lower and upper, closer to the screen. A more expensive choice would be the balcony, a raised seating platform. Some used to come equipped with dress circle seats and then there was always the box.
Unlike the modern-day multiplex, which, more often than not, is part of a bigger mall, one would go to the single screen theater with the express intent of doing nothing else but watching the movie. Near the entrance would be a ticket window, often separate ones, depending upon whether you had the big bucks to buy a balcony seat, or were content to ogle at your stars from the neck-straining proximity of the lower stall. When a new movie would release, serpentine lines would form in front of the theater. A small atrium would offer protection from the elements while you jostled with the person behind and in front of you, in the manner that lines in India often make you do. The tickets would usually be printed on pink-colored papers, perforated in the center. The person selling the ticket would circle the seat number on it and give it to you. If the movie Gods weren’t going to oblige you, a big “House Full” board, with a white background and red lettering, would be put in front. That invariably would lead to the crowd dissipating. Some would even shake their heads in disbelief. Some may resort to fatalism and decide to come another day. And then the rest, the small minority of smart, adventurous, passionate folks would seek out the only source of salvation left – the famous men in “black”. Those rescuers of trauma, who, for a little price can still let you into that theater. Never mind that you may end up in lower stall if you had balcony in your sights. Never mind that you may have gone as a couple but may find two different seats to watch the movie from. If you desperately wanted to get in, no matter what, you went through them.
Once the time for the movie was nigh, you walked in through those majestic structures.  Ranging from the baroque to the very ordinary, the theaters would invariably have a choices of architectural styles on offer. Long staircases leading to your seat, an usher, plainly dressed, unlike the smartly-dressed-in-suit ones found in multiplexes, shining his torchlight to make sure you get to your moderately-comfortable viewing spot, and after the riff-raff has settled down, the dimming of lights and the shining screen – ah, the memories! And how can one forget the advertisements, the trailers of upcoming movies and the inevitable shaking of the screen till the projectionist gets it right?
Intervals would typically see a mad scramble to get some food and cold drinks. You need to remember that the capacity of a single screen theater far exceeds that of a screen in a multiplex. This meant swelling crowds everywhere during the interval, whether it was the line for ‘batata wada’ or the restrooms. When the movie got over, an unending stream of people would accompany you through the exit. If you ever exited out to a busy street, reality would wake you up with honking horns and glaring lights, unlike the glitz and glamour of the mall. Like a social leveler, the single screen theater had tickets that all members of society could afford to purchase. A family could have an outing without emptying their pockets, unlike the multiplex prices that may not be within reach for all.
That would be your experience in a big single screen theater. The Metros and Maratha Mandirs of Mumbai. But, at the other end of the spectrum, with a different setting altogether are the teeny tiny theaters. Nestled in a small nook of the old part of a city. Playing a Hindi movie from the 70s or a C grade movie made by Kanti Shah. Some were adept enough to have the promise of air conditioning. Where men fatigued by their daily labours would go inside for a three-hour nap, stretching their legs across the seats.
But these experiences are on their way out. Movie watching is not the same anymore, with the sanitized, contained world of the multiplex. The single screen theaters are losing their way in this modern world. This is typically true for the larger cities. Take Mumbai, for instance. Iconic theaters that once existed now no longer dot the landscape. Hindmata, Imperial, Dreamland, Novelty, Strand have been torn down and reused to serve some other purpose. Apsara, which had premiered with Sangam in 1964, has also passed us by. This malaise has also spread to smaller cities. Majestic Talkies in Ajmer, Rajasthan’s oldest cinema, which began in 1929, is packing up.
It is a poignant commentary of transformation, this move towards tearing the old and introducing the new. Modernism may swoop in to take the movie experience to a better place but it remains a fact that every time a big theater packs up, a little part of the city’s history dies along with it.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Audio Interview for r2idreams

Written interviews are so old fashioned smile emoticon Audio interviews are in!
Our book just got reviewed by Indian Moms Connect on their site and was accompanied by an audio interview as well. We are grateful to them for the kind words and a chance to get our mellifluous voices on the internet smile emoticon

Hear on!

http://www.indianmomsconnect.com/2015/03/05/book-review-r2i-dreams-go/ 

Friday, February 13, 2015

The World Cup 2015

And here we are
Yet again
With hopes aloft
And dreams amiss

With God watching
From a comfortable seat
His kingdom assured
His deeds writ

But the lambs go on
To slaughter ordained
Going down under
In Down Under?

Will the champions
Bring it home?
"Won't give it back"
Or pass it along?

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Tenacity

"Love isn't easy", said Ghalib once. And yet, there's always a tenacity around it that helps it find its way through obstacles. This one's for all the romantics out there. A story of a tenacious love set in (where else) Mumbai. Pleased to share my publication in this month's Spark magazine. Their theme for the month was 'Romance'. Read on.

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=8785 

Tenacity


“Love is in the air
Love is everywhere”

A gigantic hoarding screaming this message towered over the rail tracks as the Mumbai local train approached a bend. Two of the country’s most famous film stars were featured on the poster, advertising the upcoming film that was going to be released on Diwali. A saga of love, life, and a promise fulfilled was going to enter a thousand screens and the lives of millions across the country. The heroine, draped in a yellow colored sari, flashed her pearly whites and looked down. Embracing her and resting his neck over her shoulders was the heartthrob of the nation – a superstar nearing fifty, his face upheld by the prayers of millions and the magic of Botox.

To take that view, one would need to be cynical. Sunita wasn’t capable of it. She held on tightly to the railing of the train, well aware that her train station was approaching.

As the station arrived, she arranged her dupatta to the center, and just before the train ground to a complete halt, she landed on the platform with life and limb intact.

The sea of people washed her ashore, away from the railway station, through a phalanx of stairs. Sunita took in the air, the noise, the fast-dwindling light of the day, the heavy commotion of the rickshaws on the road. The evening was here. Two hours of commuting to get here and she still felt fresh and vibrant like a morning dew drop. She was ready.

“Love is in the air
Love is everywhere”

A towering hoarding stood 100 meters away and 30 feet taller than Sunil’s rickshaw, which was one among the many immovable objects stuck in the traffic jam. Sunil was fighting his impatience with distraction. He had been stuck in traffic for the past half an hour. The white shirt he had chosen for the occasion was being spray painted by black soot emanating from the exhausts of trucks that wouldn’t have passed a pollution check test. The sweat on his temples was beginning to drip down to his vest. The anxiety he was feeling was slowing down time. At least, to him, he had been sitting there for an eternity.

He had ample time to study the smug face of the hero. The curvaceous beauty of the heroine. The harmony of the picture.

The message was clear to him. Love elevated people out of their troubles. Their misery. Their challenge of existence. Love offered the promise of miracles.

Right then, a miracle happened. The traffic inched forward. A barrage of pointless honking over the past twenty minutes seemed to have jolted the traffic Gods out of their stupor. Sunil smiled to himself. This was happening. He was ready.

Sunita had enough time to ponder about the unfair romances Mumbai had to offer for its lesser mortals. She saw a young couple zoom past her auto rickshaw in a shiny blue car. The girl looked like she was straight out of the pages of the fashion magazine she often flipped through while stopping by A.H. Wheeler book stall on a local railway station. They breezed through with an air of confidence and ease she never experienced. What a comfort it would be for her to sit in the air conditioning of the car and repair the stressof the heat on her face and hair. No, there would be none of that for her while she headed to the rendezvous point. She caught a glimpse of herself in the rearview mirror of the rickety rickshaw and sighed. A deep long sigh of distress and anticipation.  An SMS arriving from a cell tower up close sent her phone into a tizzy of vibrations. “Stuck in traffic. Will be there soon”. She looked at her phone and let a shy smile escape her.

Sunil had already traveled nearly two hours in train, autorickshaw and a bus to get to where he was right now. He calculated that Sunita too must have spent an equal amount of time to get there. Why, he wondered, should an evening together be such a hassle to arrange? It was as if the city conspired against romance.

They had once decided to go sit near a promenade, to quietly enjoy the waves, and were chased away by a lathi wielding policeman. He had taken it upon himself to root out any indecent behavior. They would have watched more movies if Sunil could get himself interested in them. Eating out was a good choice, but they realized that the good places were heavy on the pocket and the time they had to wait to get into them. No, love is not easy, as Ghalib once said.

Not today. Today, they were not to be deterred. Today, the city would not defeat them. They were going to meet and hold hands and talk without the cacophony of the surroundings overpowering them. They were going to seek each other out with the assurance of the two movie stars on the poster of the movie without having to look over their shoulder to see who was watching.

He paid off the rickshaw driver and stepped out. He glanced down at his watch. 8.45 pm. She must already have reached. He rearranged the crumpled bouquet he was carrying in his hand. A fleeting thought crossed his mind. I must call my parents. They must have reached Kolhapur by now. And his younger sister too. She was off at their aunt’s for the night.


He walked into the building, taking the stairs two at a time, hurrying to his destination. The door was already open and a beautiful girl with a face still strained with beads of sweat was putting down her bag. Their timing was impeccable. Sunil smiled gently, entered the house and closed the door. Sunita ran to him and gave him a warm embrace. That little cozy house of theirs, which they shared with his parents and his sister, where space was so small that the adults bumped into one another while walking, was theirs. No other place in Mumbai would be romantic enough today. Sunil stepped back and in a flourish that would have made the movie heartthrob proud, handed Sunita the flowers and said, “Happy anniversary!”

Monday, January 05, 2015

The Missing Amulet

A poem about a mystery in a family about a missing amulet. This publication was for the 'mystery/crime' theme of this month's Spark magazine.

Read on!

Original publication at http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=8661

The Missing Amulet


“It’s missing, it’s missing,”
Rang out cries from the hall
“The amulet,” cried Grandpa
Wobbling, as if he might just fall

Soon, a posse was formed
Hands and eyes searching in earnest
The missing piece must be found
For our fragile Grandpa dearest

Hours passed in the tense household
And no sign of the amulet was seen
Grandpa finally uttered some words
“It’s stolen. This is a crime scene.”

The former governor must be right
For years of misanthropy he had witnessed
So what if everyone here was his kin
Trust was never high on his list

And so, his sons and their wives
And his daughters and their pets
And the domestic helpers one and two
Each found themselves beset

With alacrity, a room was set
For the questions to be asked in
And one by one, they filed
Into the mouth of the lion’s den

“Where did you see it last?
Did you ever touch it?
Why should I trust a word you say?
I know you had your eyes on it”

So the purported thieves
All sat through the inquisition
Red-faced, shamed, ignominiously tamed
They bore the brunt of the accusation

For they were now in the season
Of Grandpa’s growing senility
Of growing imagination
And decreasing cognitive ability

They laughed and they cried
At this regular charade
Can this amulet ever be found?
Frustrated, they silently played

It is true, it wasn’t the amulet
That was sought after
It was Grandpa’s faith
That was the crux of the matter

What price can an amulet get you?
A hundred in a pawn store?
But one good turn in the will from the old man
That, my friends, was worth a lot more

So, craftily they stole,
Not his amulet, but his trust
Building a case against the rest
Suggesting the kin’s gold lust

So the day passed into night
The mystery continued to confound
The old man’s wretched amulet
Was nowhere to be found

And one day Grandpa died
His last words, “I am so sad”
They gathered again, to hear his will
The sons, the daughters, good and bad

“To all of you who read this will
I have for you one quest
He who finds my amulet
Will get more than the rest”

They all sighed, spat and cursed
At the old man’s masterstroke
In senility, he found some revenge
They laughed before, now they were the joke

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Annus Moviebilis part II

I conducted an experiment in the year 2008. I wanted to keep a tab on the number of movies I watched through the year. I diligently noted every movie I saw. At the end of the year, a list was produced here.

It has been a while since and I wanted to see for myself if the passage of time, addition of another child to the family and the improved quality of television programming has had any change to the number. Additionally, I released my first book as well this year.

As was the case before, I am not going to drill down the list to analyze it more. However, here's the list of movies. The suspense of the score is revealed at the bottom of this list.

Skyfall
Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani
Invictus
The internship
Krrish 3
World War Z
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
Jack Reacher
American Psycho
Vanity Fair
Ek Thi Daayan
Ironman 3
Cloud Atlas
Mitt
The Square
The Ninth Gate
Oblivion
Donnie Darko
Mickey Virus
Rock On
Once upon a time in Mumbai Dobaara
Pacific Rim
Man Of Steel
Hansee toh phasee
Ramleela
Gori Tere Pyaar Mein
The Europa Report
The Great Gatsby
Blue Jasmine
Dances with wolves
Shaadi ke side effects
The Family
12 years a slave
Fast and the furious 6
Elysium
The Wolf of Wall Street
Queen
American Hustle
Bewakoofiyan
The Ides of March
Shahid
X-Men: Days of future past
Thor: The dark world
Nowhere boy
Jobs
The Dallas Buyer's Club
Dedh Ishqiya
Side Effects
Diana
The Breakfast Club
Pretty In Pink
St. Elmo's Fire
The Descendants
Prisoners
The Apartment
2 States
Catching Fire
Highway
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The Lunchbox
Rush
Bobby Jasoos
Ek Villain
Captain Phillips
For a few dollars more
Her
3 Days to Kill
Gulabi Gang
Haider
Holiday - a soldier is never off duty
The Woman in Black
The hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy
Gravity
Humpty Sharma ki dulhaniya
Kick
Mardaani
Snowpiercer
Birdcage
Lucy
The Edge of Tomorrow
The Hobbit: Battle of the five armies
Magic in the moonlight
The 100 foot journey
PK
Daawat-e-Ishq
Inkaar


Scores:

2008: 99
2014: 86

A drop, but not too drastic, considering everything that's going on. Clearly, I am still quite the movie-phile.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Mumbai Musings from a non-resident Indian

(Published first on Medium)

I spent the first two decades of my life in the bustling, ever-changing metropolis of Mumbai before I left it for the disturbing calm of College Station, Texas. As my years in the United States piled on, my physical and metaphorical distance from my city of dreams grew on. Now, I straddle two different worlds. The place where I live — the lush green Pacific Northwest and the place which I still ambiguously call home — the crazy, crowded, lively Mumbai.

I recently came to India with my wife and two sons (6 & 2) on one more of my bi-annual sojourns to meet friends, family and my city. I decided to capture my musings as I spent my time here — in essence, capturing, what every NRI experiences when they come back home. Here’s hoping some of this resonates with you.

1. I sit on the sofa on a warm November day and sip hot coffee made by my mother while reading an actual newspaper as the breeze of the fan ruffles its pages. When I come home, an old deep frozen way of life is thawed into being.

2. The ominous threat ‘Winter is coming’ doesn’t scare people of the Kingdom of Mumbai. Winter never comes to Mumbai.
(update written at the end of another 95 F day)

3. When I come to India, I carry jetlag and Seattle with me. Jetlag takes a while to get over, but Seattle leaves the system in two days. The niceties and laidback attitude are of no use the third time you get cut in line or take five minutes to cross the road.

4. The importance of home delivery and ironed clothes in a Mumbai (Indian) household can’t be stated enough

5. I am an Andheri boy to the core, but when it comes to architectural beauty, the boundary can be drawn at Bandra. Suburbs north of that have the aesthetic beauty of Lego blocks arranged by a one year old.

6. No India trip is complete without your child asking you to stop the car because of an ‘emergency’ and you temporarily relieving yourself (pun intended) of your civic consciousness.

7. The American constitution is better than the Indian constitution. No, not the legal document. I am talking about the gastrointestinal system. My American born kids hold on a lot better to good health here than I do.

8. Squishing a mosquito buzzing near you with a swift clap of the hands is an instinct you never lose even when you lose practice. Mosquito Ninjas never forget their trade. Like biking or swimming.

9. My Starbucks name in India is ‘Parth’. Bart, Mark and John are waiting in Seattle.

10. In deference to all my Parsi friends, I try to keep a straight face every time I pass Horniman circle. Hard to stifle a giggle with a name like that.

11. Your parents will have a trusted steel cupboard, most likely made by Godrej, in their house. It will almost be as old as you, very dear to them,and its groan and shriek while opening is part of its charm. Over the years, amidst its layers, a history of your family builds up. A sedimentation of memories.

12. The domestic air traveler in India is a quirky beast. Among his or her traits, the following stand out
- Jumping over each other to get into the plane. Because, you know, how can one trust seat numbers?
- Getting up to use the restroom as the plane is landing. Because, you know, instructions vinstructions
- Unlocking the seat belt the moment all four wheels have touched down. Because, you know, no one can restrain an Indian a moment longer than necessary.

13. Once upon a time, there were analog meters in auto-rickshaws. The numbers would tick, and at the end of your ride, you’d be staring at 1.80 or 3.30. The rickshaw driver would swing his head and stare into the open, as if computing the number in his head. Then he’d say Rs. 55. Your mind would be alert at the prospect of being tricked, but you were too smart to ask for a rate card. So you’d apply your own computation and then pay up or fight. The new meters tell me exactly what I need to pay. I miss the drama.

14. Parenting principles are often turned around their head in India. After having drilled ‘Wait your turn’ into my children’s heads, I found myself telling them to ‘Don’t wait, just push ahead’. Without that, they’d be standing at the top of the slide for a long time without ever coming down.

15. There is no haircut better than a $1.50 haircut (including tips). Eavesdropping on interesting conversation, listening to radio or watching an old Hindi movie playing on TV, and getting a head massage is all part of the package. The only instruction ever given: ‘Chota kaatna’ (cut it short)

16. With the last ten seconds left for the traffic light to go green, auto rickshaw drivers start a vrooming routine that mirrors F1 drivers at the start of a race. All this to achieve a high speed of 10kmph.


17. You look around the house and find little pieces of yourself left around like breadcrumbs. It is a fallacy to think that you have come back home. The truth is, you never really left.

This is in continuation with the topic I touched upon in my book ‘r2i Dreams’, which is an exploration of the return to India topic from the perspective of three immigrants. As any NRI going back to India will attest, each trip brings upon a flood of memories and a shift of perspective. Hope you enjoyed the musings.