Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani


I arrived in the US ten days ago. After a trip to LA and San Diego (visiting theme parks with my ten-year-old nephew R.), I’m back in New Jersey, with my in-laws. Yesterday we visited a local cinema for a Hindi movie.

This is not new, and it must be common experience for New Jerseyians, but it never fails to amaze me. The queue behind the ticket counter is packed with only Indians. About thirty of them. Lined up for Hindi and Telugu movies. Yeh Jawaani hai Deewani, Ghanchakkar, Raanjhanna, Balupu. Some are in Indian clothes, salwaar-kameez or kurtas. They speak in the vernacular, one or two with an American accent.

The movie we watch, Yeh Jawaani Hai Dewaani, is a modern love story. Boy meets girl on a trek; they like each other, but the boy has ambitions — plans to see the world, to seek adventure; they move on, but eight years later they meet again; old love surfaces, so does the old conflict; the boy has to choose between his desire for adventure and the rootedness of family-life; he chooses the girl.

What made this story different from a Hindi movie from the eighties or nineties is the absence of family in the narrative. Parents appear at the beginning, before boy and girl leave home, and the boy briefly remembers his father near the film’s end — for the rest boy and girl are independent, making choices and living by them. Compare this to QSQT or DDLJ or Lamhe. Family used to played a large role in love stories — is the new trend a reflection of urban India today?

The other difference is the film’s attitude toward the West. Going abroad still has its charm, and the boy does spend time in Europe (even kissing, in the space of a song, a striking blonde, something I haven’t managed in twelve years there), but in the end he returns. New York and LA and Paris are good, but the future is back home. This is the confidence of a new India.

Kino stories


1. Karlstorkino, Heidelberg

At the Karlstorkino in Heidelberg, behind the counter in the tiny foyer that divides the entrance from the small movie hall, the woman with dark hair and dark eyes says she does not have a Coke. She names another drink whose name I don’t catch. It’s like Coke, she says, almost apologetically. The beginning of the film is a quarter of an hour away. I pick my drink and flip through pamphlets and cards advertising upcoming titles. Posters on the walls hold frames from movies I have never heard of, but this is unsurprising: they customarily screen not mainstream movies but obscure titles ignored by the rest. Three young men, all blond haired, enter the foyer. One of them is barefoot. The kino is close to some altstadt apartments where university students live – this man may have just crossed the street to get here. Still, it is refreshing to note this streak in a German. The hall, accomodating not more than thirty seats, is half empty when the movie begins. I sip my Coke-like drink and sink into the cushioned folds as the title flashes across the screen: Guilty of Romance.

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Family matters

At my workplace the role of a team secretary is not insignificant. Setting up meetings and workshops, booking rooms and external venues, approving leave requests, handling business-travel queries: these tasks keep the secretaries busy, and the rest of us away from administrative affairs. Their office is a hub of activity, its traffic a barometer of the team’s progression. In August, when most Germans pack their bags and travel South, the room goes quiet; activity rises in September and peaks in early December when everyone is at work, waiting for the Christmas break. The secretaries, well aware how much we depend on them, usually plan ahead and ensure their vacations do not overlap. It is a steady job, a function that sees little attrition: they remain with the same executive for years, even following the boss to other areas of the company. So when I learned, not long ago, that our new team secretary would soon leave, the news took me by surprise. Less than four months had passed since E joined us. She got along well with everyone; her relaxed mien and her readiness to smile gave the impression she was happy with her job. What had happened?

Continue reading “Family matters”

Just let it be, my friend

Sometime in the late Eighties, during my school days in Secunderabad, I watched a movie on television that left a strange impression on my mind. I must have been thirteen or fourteen, a typical Indian teenager fond of cricket, comics and movies. (Girls were only a curiosity, but that would change soon.) Every Sunday I would check the Deccan Chronicle for the scheduled evening movie on Doordarshan, and if it looked interesting I would be home in time for the 5:45 pm “Hindi Feature Film”. There was a Black & White TV at home, an Uptron portable fourteen inch with a V-shaped antenna that stuck out like a pair of bunny ears, and Doordarshan, you’ll remember, was the only channel we received those days.

On this Sunday the movie, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, was not one I’d heard of before, and there were no big stars listed either. But the name intrigued me for some reason, so that evening I skipped a game of cricket and settled myself on the sofa at a quarter to six. The next two and half hours had me in splits. I don’t remember laughing so much to a movie before, and since then only Johnny Stecchino, starring the incomparable Roberto Benigni, comes anywhere close. But there was one problem with Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro: I did not understand the ending, which left me sour and confused all evening, and I decided I didn’t like the movie. Next day, at school, I asked my classmates, but no one had cracked the puzzle. Why did the Vinod and Sudhir, dressed as prisoners, make that throat-slitting gesture? Were they to be hanged? Or were they already ghosts, spirits of two innocent men who were hanged, wandering in Bombay like zombies? Why, after all that fun, did the ending need to be so tragic? It simply wasn’t fair!

Continue reading “Just let it be, my friend”

Utsav, and lists in The Kama Sutra

Yesterday, while scanning a set of disks for a movie to watch, I stumbled upon Utsav.  I had bought the movie a couple of years previously on a trip to India but had never got around to watching it. The choice for this Saturday evening seemed to agree with Wife also, so we settled down under a quilt on the sofa, in a dark room suffused with the dim glow of city lights filtering in through the windows. Continue reading “Utsav, and lists in The Kama Sutra”

Reality in movies: Manufactured or Captured?

Yesterday at the library I found, among the stack of New DVDs, the “Apu Trilogy” collection from Satyajit Ray. I picked up the first one – Pather Panchali – and watched it later in the afternoon. It left a deep impression, and my mind kept going back to the scenes in that courtyard with Durga and Apu, their mother, father, the old lady, the kittens, the dog. It was as if Ray had opened a window into life in that family, for us to see, understand and empathize. Realism on the screen couldn’t be more real. And more poetic.

There is one aspect about movies portraying realism that has intrigued me for a while now: the impact of the movie seems to depend on whether the reality depicted on screen is manufactured – or seems manufactured – or simply captured. Watching Pather Panchali, I rarely got the feeling that people were acting: events unfolded at a natural pace, nothing seemed forced or exaggerated, and the characters – especially the children – seemed like those you encounter in street: ordinary and commonplace (and yet, through the magic of Satyajit Ray, very endearing).

I’ve felt similarly with Abbas Kiarostami‘s movies. Watching Ten, I could not for the life of me imagine that the child in that car complaining and fighting with his mother was acting. The feeling was stronger in A taste of cherry: if you’ve seen it, you would’ve probably asked yourselves if the director shot the whole movie ad hoc, with the driver picking up strangers on the road and filming their interaction through a hidden camera.

The power of such depictions of “captured reality” is immense; it disturbs you, and leaves you with a lasting impression. Which is very different from the impact of a “well-made” movie with healthy doses of “manufactured reality”. One may like such a well-made movie (an example that comes to mind is a movie I watched a couple of weeks back: Sophia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, which dazzled me, in a way), but in the end somewhere deep down you cannot let go of the feeling that all this is made up – manufactured for the benefit of your viewing pleasure. To me, this prevents a good movie from being great.

Kurosawa is another example. The villagers in Seven Samurai appear like real villagers, and their pathos seems real, not manufactured. One cannot say the same about the villagers in Lagaan. Again, the difference between good and great.

I watched Deepa Mehta’s Water some weeks previously. Thinking back, the parallels to Pather Panchali are noticeable, and so are the differences. The relationship between the little girl Chuhiya and the old woman who craves for sweets isn’t dissimilar to the one between Durga and her grand aunt; both movies revolve around a courtyard: one within a house and the other within an ashram. But Water, although delicate and moving, seemed manufactured in places, and the casting of Lisa Ray as a widow was inappropriate (Nandita Das would have fit better into the doleful atmosphere of the widow’s ashram).

How does it work ? What techniques do you apply to make a scene not seem manufactured ? When is it okay for a scene to appear manufactured ?

I need to learn to watch movies better.