Friday, July 8, 2011

Delhi Belly rules!

Everyone who knows me knows that I have a gag reflex when it comes to Bollywood. I'd much rather have my toe nails pulled out, thank you very much. And everyone's given up on me apart from my husband. He accuses me of being an incurable snob (I'm not a snob really, I just have a different sensibility) and insists that I get a dose of popular culture every now and then. Thrice a year, is what I've reluctantly allowed him (marriage is about making compromises, innit?). Of course, I've NEVER forgiven him for dragging me to see that weird Dil Chahta Hai, which, critics raved, was a turning point in Indian cinema. I thought it was puerile, dishonest, lame, and wannabe cool. Hell, it still had that dreadful Bollywood sensibility - the first half of the movie was upbeat, the second half everyone was beating their breasts and weeping. Ew.

Admittedly, there are a few Bollywood flicks I rather liked in the recent past: Omkara, Welcome To Sajjanpur, Peepli Live and Love, Sex aur Dhoka. I walked out halfway through the first Munnabhai flick when the breast beating and mournful violins began - but I enjoyed the second Munnabhai movie - perhaps because Raju Hirani dumped that annoying half-half formula here. That's just five movies over a decade.

Naturally, I didn't want to see Delhi Belly. Particularly since critics were raving, once again, that it's a (yawn) turning point in Indian cinema. I was dragged, nonetheless, by a very determined husband and holy shit - I absolutely loved it! I loved EVERYTHING about it. Yes, it's gross and outrageous but it's also side-splittingly hilarious and so intelligently put together. Some of the scenes are amazingly memorable, I have a feeling I'll still be giggling over them in the years to come. The bread stick and paper bag scene is one of my favourites. And as for the profanity that's got many people pursing their lips grimly, I think I should quote my brother-in-law here, "The language in the film took me back to college. It all came back, the imagery and stuff. Shit we were so creative!"

The script writer (Akshat Varma) and the director (Abhinay Deo) did a fantastic job, the casting was superb, and now perhaps I won't let out a squeak when I'm forced to see a Bollywood flick again. But I'll only go if it's a collaborative effort between Akshat Varma and Abhinay Deo - what can I say? They've set the bar so high, it's going to be a tough act to follow. And why should I settle for less?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Baba Black Money

(Published in Hardnews, July 2011)

A couple of months ago I earnestly wrote in this very magazine that I support Anna Hazare’s ‘India against Corruption’ movement. I take it back, and I have sent them a terse letter withdrawing my support. I’m not fickle by nature, but a rather peculiar man called Baba Ramdev made me see the light. He decided that he wanted to go on a fast against corruption as well, and who can blame him because fasting has become terribly fashionable in India these days.

For all those who were in a coma while Baba Ramdev went on a fast and trended on Twitter, here’s a brief bio:
Baba Ramdev is a TV actor who plays a shirtless yoga guru (sort of like a Bollywood hero in saffron robes) and promises his fans that he has a cure for cancer, homosexuality, blood pressure and oh my god practically everything apart from tennis elbow. I’d like to underline the fact that he has never ever mentioned tennis elbow - we absolutely must congratulate him for that admirable show of restraint. However, never forget that he’s just a TV actor, okay? Come on, he couldn’t control his own blood pressure after fasting for a few days. Even worse, he couldn’t continue his fast for more than eight days, for shame. This is shocking in a nation that has grown up seeing pictures of meditating Sadhus covered in gigantic anthills in Amar Chitra Katha comics. We now know that believing in Baba Ramdev’s yoga is as foolish as believing in Santa (Claus, not Singh).

Baba Ramdev is also a great comedian who specialises in spoofs. Instead of a solemn fast-unto-death, he delivered a hilarious farce-unto-death by raising completely ridiculous demands and acting like a buffoon. After this, I don’t imagine anyone in the country will take fasts seriously. I certainly won’t, and if Anna Hazare does carry out his threat of going on yet another fast in August, I may be tempted to call Domino’s and get piping hot pizzas delivered to him every hour on the hour. Just to remind him that there’s a large part of civil society that does not believe in blackmail. I’d urge Anna Hazare to try dialogue instead and stop behaving like an annoying diva.

But back to Baba Ramdev. Far from being a calm and spiritual person, Baba Ramdev is shockingly bloodthirsty. He believes that naughty people should get the death sentence instead of being served bread and water in jail for the rest of their sorry lives. Death by hanging is what he recommends, with a maniacal gleam in his eyes. It’s not surprising then that some of his friends include nasty people who destroy masjids and instigate communal riots that stain India’s streets with blood. His friends were there of course, cheering Baba Ramdev on when he refused to eat. That’s when I stopped laughing at Baba Ramdev’s antics and started weeping for India. Oddly enough, the sight of the saffron-clad Taliban at Delhi’s Ram Leela grounds evidently didn’t upset Anna Hazare and his gang as much as it upset me.

To be fair though, Baba Ramdev does have a softer, more feminine side. Sometimes he likes to dress like a girl and is extremely partial to pretty pink salwar kameezes. That’s perhaps why four senior UPA leaders were so eager to pick him up from the airport and begged him to spend quality time with them at posh hotels. Sorry, but I can think of no other explanation for their strange behaviour. Oh, and I guess we can safely assume that Baba Ramdev can’t cure cross-dressing either.

Finally, I’d like to remind you that while Baba Ramdev may have lost hundreds of yoga fans, he’s won thousands of saffron fans who more than make up for that loss. I’m dead certain his fan mail will continue to give Indian postmen severe back-aches. I may as well confess that I’m a huge fan of Baba Ramdev too. This man will go down in the history of modern India as a hero because he showed us how dangerous fasting as a blackmail tool can be. Not just for the health of the individual but the health of the nation.