Movies · Time Pass

The Nostalgia of Antakshari

Does no one play antakshari anymore?

antakshariPlaying antakshari is one of the simple pleasures of life I miss these days. It is the remnant of times when you didn’t have 24/7 entertainment available and had to find ways of entertaining yourself. Perhaps also a remnant of times when people’s sphere of interests were limited and similar. Evening family gatherings in the inevitable absence of the treacherous electricity, cousins getting together during weddings and functions, and the attempts to enliven those homesick evenings in the school hostel – they are all associated with a lively game of antakshari. And who didn’t like Hindi movie songs?

Even though I call it a simple pleasure of life now, boy, was it a complicated affair? Rules were difficult to agree on. Are the “non-filmi” songs allowed? If allowed, just how far are you allowed to go? Can you go beyond the Hindi language? Albums? Bhajans? That classical song you learned in your music class? School prayers? Folk songs usually sung during weddings and functions?

And even after those boundaries were established, how would you know you were staying within those boundaries? Endless debates:

“You can’t sing that. Aye maalik tere bande hum is a school prayer, not a real song.”

“Idiot! It was sung in a film first. You school picked it up from there.”

OR

“That song doesn’t start with ‘ha’.”

“What does it start with, then?”

“‘na’. It’s ‘Na jaane mere dil ko kya ho gaya…'”

Does an obscure sher before a song count as the beginning of a song, or is it to be ignored as a dialogue? What about all those “ho ho” or “aa ha aa ha aa ha” before the songs? Are Gulzar’s songs even songs?

As someone not very socially adept otherwise, antakshari worked for me. I excelled at it. I could pull out my special reserve of old Hindi movie songs to challenge the opponents of my age and win the approbation of the elders. For many of those songs, I knew nothing about them other than the first couple of lines, just enough to use them in this game. Years later, when I saw the picturization of some of them on YouTube, I was aghast. My mental model of what those songs should have looked like on screen was wildly different.

Two of my latest memories of playing antakshari are almost a decade or more old.

We played it in Lucknow, after our wedding, with a group of cousins. We stayed up almost all night. I and a younger cousin-in-law were pitched against each other, I with my repertoire of old songs, she with her collection of the latest ones. Almost nobody could challenge any of us on the correctness of our songs. We couldn’t challenge each other either. I had no idea that the songs she was picking up actually had any lyrics. And she didn’t know anything about the ones I was picking up.

Before that, I had played antakshari with my colleagues at Google, during a bus ride for a company offsite. The game ended when my own partner accused me of making up the songs I was singing! The song that triggered this betrayal went like this:

Ganga maang rahi balidaan
Yamuna maang rahi qurbani,
Aaj watan par jo mit jaye
Wahi hai sachcha hindustani.

Even today, I can’t find this song on YouTube or any other online sources. So, I can’t prove that I wasn’t making this up. I may misremember the lyrics, I definitely misremember the tune. But the song is real. I had heard it on Doordarshan – some old black and white movie.

At Navodaya, our teachers would rather have us play antakshari with Hindi poetry – not with those inappropriate “filmi songs” that corrupt the young minds. But poems were easy to run out of. And too academic. We always had other plans.

Whatever reserve of older songs I had, the first line of attack always consisted of those cringe-worthy, tacky songs of 90s. I suppose it is always the ones you grow up with.

With the light social gatherings focussed on parties and serious ones focused on books, antakshari has been pushed out of my life. The cosmopolitan nature of my friend circle also means that not everyone is a Hindi movie song buff. God knows I am not a language chauvinist, but antakshari doesn’t lend itself to language egalitarianism without spoiling the fun!

But if we do ever have a face-off in antakshari, do be prepared for songs like “dulhe ka sehra suhana lagta hai” and “roop suhana lagta hai, chaand purana lagta hai”. And remember “ho gaya hai tujhko to pyaar sajna” doesn’t start with “ha” and “sandeshe aate hain” starts with “ho o o o”, and hence with “ha”. Also, try not to descend into “Maine Pyaar Kiya” antakshari sequence.

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Movies · Thoughts

Desh and Mulk

Note 1: Since I didn’t have the privilege of mugging up Pakistani songs in my childhood with the help of देशभक्ति गीत booklets, I couldn’t catch some words in them. They are marked (???). If you know them, or could figure out from videos, please do let me know and I will update them.  Missing words, however, do not matter for the contents of this article.

Note 2: All the songs discussed here have been linked in the Scroll article.

Reading this article on Scroll about the Indian movie Jagriti and its copy Bedari in Pakistan was at once surreal, sad and funny.

You can head over to Scroll for more details, but in a nutshell Jagriti is a movie you might remember for the patriotic songs like दे दी हमें आज़ादी बिना खड्ग बिना ढाल, आओ बच्चों तुम्हें दिखाएँ and हम लाए हैं तूफ़ान से किश्ती निकाल के. The copy titled Bedari made in Pakistan seems to have lifted the story, scenes, characters, lyrics and music as it is from Jagriti with suitable modifications made for Pakistan.

It is surreal to listen to the songs with the same music and almost the same lyrics with one glorifying India, and the other Pakistan.

It is sad to think that the same story, same characters, same music work for both, yet there are two countries.

Sad and funny are the changes in the lyrics.

Some are just individual or regional quirks. Mohd Rafi in India pronounces it किश्ती (kishti), Saleem Raza in Pakistan pronounces it as कश्ती (kashti).

Many are language imperatives. In India we don’t shy away from Urdu, but still the Indian teacher asks his children to take care of this देश (desh), the Pakistani one is concerned with this मुल्क़ (mulk). इस मिट्टी से तिलक करो ये धरती है बलिदान की is too Sanskritized; so we have इसकी ख़ातिर हमने दी क़ुर्बानी लाखों जान की instead.

माँ is okay on both sides, so is दुख ना जहाँ कोई ग़म ना जहाँ. But निमंत्रण is too much Sanskrit again. So, आज है निमंत्रण सन सन हवाओं में has been changed to अपने भी बेगाने हुए (???) हवाओं में. Elsewhere the Pakistani lyricist doesn’t have a problem with the word अमृत (ये रावी और (???) का पानी अमृत को शरमाता है), so it is strange that he should have a problem with दिशा। घूमना है हमको दूर की दिशाओं में has been changed to a completely different मेरे सुख की दुनिया है तुम्हारे पाँव में. This song in Pakistani version, for some reason, seem to have a more morose tone as opposed to the Indian one which appears optimistic and cheerful. These two changes might, then, not have been about the language, but the tone, because the changed words go better with moroseness.  The Sherlock Holmes in me, of course, wonders if there are subtle changes in the story then. Or did one side just do an incongruous picturization?

Some changes seem to be just the creative impulses of Pakistani lyricist bubbling over. There doesn’t seem to be anything particularly Indian or Sanskritized in देखो कही बर्बाद ना होवे ये बगीचा. But it has been changed to देखो कहीं उजड़े ना हमारा ये बग़ीचा.

Another set has social, political and religious imperatives. बादल गुलाल के had too much Holi connotation (disregard the rather long Sufi and Muslim fascination with the festival in the interest of nationalism please). So, instead we are told of परचम हिलाल के.

One set of children is being shown झाँकी हिन्दुस्तान की, the other is being offered सैर पाकिस्तान की। The Pakistani teacher has conveniently forgotten East Pakistan (school budget constraints? Not that they have to bother with it now.). Indian train also stopped with Marathas. Deccan, Mysore, Madras were happily left out (school budget constraints!).

Gandhi had to be replaced with Jinnah, of course. Hence दे दी हमें आज़ादी बिना ख़ड्ग बिना ढाल / साबरमती के संत तूने कर दिया कमाल changes to यूँ दी हमें आजादी कि दुनिया हुई हैरान / ऐ क़ायद-ए-आज़म तेरा अहसान है अहसान. क़ायद-ए-आज़म didn’t have a convenient short nickname like बापू. So, at another place इसको हृदय के खून से बापू ने है सींचा had to be changed to इसको लहू से अपने शहीदों ने है सींचा.

The warning of एटम बमों के ज़ोर पे ऐंठी है ये दुनिया / बारूद के एक ढेर पर बैठी है ये दुनिया / तुम हर क़दम उठाना ज़रा देख-भाल के has been rendered mellow with a religious prescription दुनिया की सियासत के अजब रंग है न्यारे / चलना है मग़र तुमको तो कुराँ के सहारे.

It is interesting that the Indian version has the map of undivided India in a scene. Probably we still thought at that time that partition was temporary. Pakistani version has only Pakistan on the map as expected. I can’t comment of the status of PoK.

But here is the change that is the saddest of all. The song exhorting the children to take care of their country reaches its crescendo in the Indian version with

अब वक्त आ गया मेरे हँसते हुए फूलों
उठो छलाँग मार के आकाश को छू लो
तुम गाड़ दो गगन में तिरंगा उछाल के।

The Pakistani version is

लेना अभी कश्मीर है ये बात ना भूलो
कश्मीर पे लहराना है झंडा उछाल के।

The ambitions! I’m sorry my Pakistani counterparts. But you have been shortchanged there. Your ambition was stuck at Kashmir, while we were aiming for the sky. I agree that Kashmir is more tractable than the sky, and for all I know you might have fought harder for Kashmir than we did for the sky. But you were shortchanged nevertheless.

The real clincher in this story is elsewhere. The child artist who plays the role of the disabled, poor, fatherless, ideal boy in the Indian version, who eulogizes Gandhi with passion

जब जब तेरा बिगुल बजा जवान चल पड़े
मजदूर चल पड़े थे और किसान चल पड़े
हिन्दू व मुसलमान सिख पठान चल पड़े
कदमों पे तेरे कोटि कोटि प्राण चल पड़े

फूलों की सेज छोड़ के दौड़े जवाहरलाल
साबरमती के संत तूने कर दिया कमाल।

He was Rattan Kumar उर्फ़ Nazir Riqvi. After the release of Jagriti he migrated to Pakistan and played the same role in Bedari singing the panegyric to Jinnah

(???) पंजाब से जवान चल पड़े
सिंधी बलोची सरहदी पठान चल पड़े
साथ अपने मुहाज़िर लिए कुरान चल पड़े
घरबार छोड़ बे-सर-ओ-सामान चल पड़े

और (???) भी चले होने को कुर्बान
ऐ क़ायद-ए-आज़म तेरा अहसान है अहसान।

The Scroll article told us as much. But I got curious about what next, so ran a few searches. It turns out that Nazir Riqvi further migrated to Germany, made a career in the hospitality industry and finally settled in California. If you thought that I was cracking a joke only on Pakistan till now, you will be disappointed. The joke is back on all of us. After inspiring generations of Indian and Pakistani children to take care of their respective countries, the actor lived his American dream.

I would have liked to say something about how partition should never have happened, how Pakistanis should not have had to rummage around to discover a hero in Muhammad bin Qasim because our long line of heroes are theirs as well, and how nobody in India should have been able to use a phrase like “Go to Pakistan” to alienate somebody. I would also have liked to say something about how the national borders worldwide are arbitrary and anomalous and how, now that we are so connected and all, we should have been able to live together as one big, happy, dominant race.

But I guess I would rather write the Pessimist’s Manifesto.

Movies

If Queen were an Indian soap….

  1. The groom would have made his decision just before the phreas.
  2. Instead of gracefully retreating, the neighbours would have stood in a circle blaming the girl, her character and her family for the issue. (How could they let a young girl go around with her fiancee for years without getting married first?)
  3. Dadi would have blamed Mom for raising a characterless daughter and Mom would have taken out the frustration on the daughter, while brother, father and uncles would have hopelessly watched.
  4. The girl would have been dehydrated after shedding hundred kilolitres of tears over several months.
  5. Then a random out-of-the-blue character would have emerged who would have encouraged the girl to take her fate in her hands and given her a brilliant idea.
  6. The girl would have donned a sexy avatar and met the guy in a night-club.
  7. Due to her make-up and new dress the guy wouldn’t have recognized her as his desi-girl fiancée and would have fallen hard for the girl donning strapless and high heels.
  8. They would have met in the night-club repeatedly, until she would have gotten into some trouble.
  9. The trouble would have been such that it would have made guy suspect her character and suddenly that part would have been very important to him.
  10. Another random out-of-the-blue character would have emerged whose sole purpose in life would have been to bring the soul-mates together.
  11. With some random plans of this random out-of-the-blue character, the soul-mates would have met and would have fallen in each other arms equally randomly, making them realize their soul-mateness.
  12. But they would have held off, started fighting, until the random-out-of-the-blue character would have gotten them drunk and made one of them confess.
  13. There would have been awkwardness and some other subplot would have derailed the reconciliation.
  14. Couple of years later another random out-of-the-blue character would have made another person drink bhaang on holi and finally the soul-mates would have united. Until the evil mother-in-law or sister-in-law entered the plot, of course…

I got carried away.

Thank God, it wasn’t an Indian soap. Go, watch it. It’s nice 🙂

Feminism · Movies

You’ve got it all wrong, Ms. Aravind!

In reaction to You’ve got the wrong villain, Mr Kashyap.

Let’s do a quick refresher of deductive logic. A statement like “If A, then B” does not imply “If not A, then not B”. Let’s contextualize it. “If women are physically strong, then unscrupulous men won’t be able to rape them” does not mean “If women are not physically strong, then of course unscrupulous men should and would rape them.”

See the problem with your criticism? You have seen the meaning you wanted to see, ignoring all logic, and then gone on to criticize it. Create a problem so that you can solve it?

What we see in the movie are characters, who respond to a particular situation; not the newspaper columnists who must present an all-rounded solution or be discredited. What do people do until the core of the issue is addressed? Until the ultimate and the right solution is found? They do whatever they can do to protect themselves. One of the things they can do is to make themselves physically strong and capable so that they can fight back their attackers. That was all there was to it. What exactly did you want a non-cigarette-smoking Sandhya Mridul to say? “Let’s leave our jobs and start protesting in front of (Insert you favourite venue here)?” Nothing wrong in protesting. But after those protests, until that ultimate solution is found, those characters will still be taunted, laughed at and molested.

No! Women having to become martial arts experts to feel safe in a civilized society is not good at all. But while they do feel unsafe, if they do want to learn and protect themselves, it doesn’t mean that they are advocating against a societal change. Nor does it somehow translate into victim-blaming.

I hope you didn’t think everything depicted in DevD was some kind of prescription for how the life should be lived. But I am glad you liked it. Because I am a fellow-fan of Anurag Kashyap too. I liked his lesser-known Gulaal even better. But no! There is nothing prescription-worthy there either.

Movies

Madras Cafe – Their Coffee was not Strong

For a movie on such a sensitive and controversial topic, why did Madras Cafe sound like an advertisement for Rajiv Gandhi? While it is totally understandable and expected that RAW officials would regret what they would see as a professional failure, their (and their families’?) deeply personal regret for “ex-PM – unki kya galti thi” sounds horribly out-of-place.

The situation, the heroes and villains, the “intelligence” operations, the entire depiction of the conflict feels simplistic. Such a long history of war doesn’t leave things in black and white. There are complexities and grays everywhere. One can’t really recognize what is right and what is wrong there. The film takes sides without the crisis of conscience such a situation creates.

And as for the fiction part, I wish they had made “the best RAW officer” succeed in at least one operation to established his “the best RAW officer”ship. That part was almost beaten down the audience’s throat! Bala, as a double agent, was too obvious in his tricks. By the way, “the best RAW officer” seemed quite proficient in several languages including English. If he could break into English while talking to Srilankan Tamil rebels, his wife and his colleagues and bosses, why was he talking to the British journalist in Hindi, while she didn’t utter a word in any language other than English?

The only question the movie seems to ask is “ex PM – unki kya galti thi?”. What about all those killed around him in the blast intended for him? The impoverished, displaced, dying civilians in “the island”? The Indian soldiers killed? “Unki kya galti thi”, bhai? Who cares?

The movie seemed like a project that would have had a bold start, but which had to be toned down to avoid controversies and political pressure. And toned down it was. So much that it became quite honest to the disclaimer shown in the beginning. That everything shown there was fictitious. They should have added “simplistic” to the description of characters and incidents in that disclaimer.

Despite that, I think it would be a better watch than

Movies · Thoughts

Please don’t be like Zoya

Dear Young (and young-at-heart) Girls,

These days, many of you are probably gushing about the sweet, selfless romance that Ranjhana is. Let me interrupt your sweet reveries and beg you for something. Please don’t be like Zoya.

“You mean, don’t be cruel and mean like her and break the heart of a sweet, innocent, selfless lover?”

No. I mean don’t be an idiot like her.

  1. Don’t fall for someone because they slash their wrists for you, even if you are a ninth-grader in Benaras. That’s idiotic and unhealthy. Even Zoya realized that it was childish.
  2. Don’t manipulate people. You wouldn’t want that to happen to you. So, don’t do it to anyone. It is mean. And for God’s sake, definitely don’t manipulate and use an obsessive stalker. It is dangerous. Don’t let him come within a mile of yourself. The movie didn’t show it to you, but stalkers can make your life hell. They can make you afraid of even stepping out of your home, they can throw acid at you, they can kill themselves and create social, legal, professional – all kinds of troubles for you, or they can harm you and your loved ones. Yes. I repeat. They can make your life hell. Don’t encourage them. Obsession, stalking is not passionate, selfless love.
  3. It is perfectly all right to break societal norms, if you believe in something. Marry across caste, class, religion, nation whatever you want. But don’t try to pass off a Hindu as a Muslim or vice versa. This is a country of honor killings. Be aware of it. Especially if you are from smaller towns, villages etc. And when you have an option of doing things at a place where you are safe, at a time when you are independent, please wait for that place and that time to do it. Or if you must have your family’s blessings, communicate with them, convince them, and wait till you get it. Don’t try to lie your way into doing brave things.
  4. Don’t use professional power to take personal revenge. And definitely don’t have a bomb blasted, and innocent people killed for that. Do I really need to tell that even to a dreamy girl in first love?

Keep dreaming. Just beware of the dreams that can turn into a nightmare, especially when you would have no one, but yourself to blame for that.

Stay brave, stay safe!

Movies

Inkaar

Yep. It was a movies weekend 🙂

In short: Climax is a disservice to the rest of the movie and to the complex issue it is about. But watch it for the rest of the movie!

Unlike rape and other obvious crimes, sexual harassment is not a black & white issue. If the questions of consensus etc. are complex in rape, one can not even start enumerating the grays with sexual harassment. Where does innocent, enjoyable flirting end, and harassment begins? What is cool to one, may be harassing to other. What is fine under one set of circumstances can be unacceptable under a different one. How do personal and professional relationships overlap and create difficult-to-classify situations?

The movie touches upon all of these. The difficult-to-establish-and-resolve character of the issue comes out very well. The only unsatisfying part was the climax. But talking about it would be giving away the “suspense” of the story. So, I will talk about it after a

SPOILER WARNING

Please do not read further, if you have not watched the movie and would not like to know the story beforehand.

With that out of the way, let’s come back to the climax. And what the hell!! Suddenly it was a very conventional Indian movie that has to have a clean resolution of things and a happily-ever-after-ending. And yeah – the protagonists have to be in love. And the lovers have to be united.

So, these two smart advertising bigwigs had brought the entire company on its knees because they were in love and couldn’t, for the love of God, communicate with each other!! The characters fooled everyone around them, and the story writer fooled us audience. And to top that wonderful realization of being in love, both of them have to leave the company and go off to Saharanpur to live happily ever after? The ambitious duo? The number 1 and number 2 in the company? WTF!!!!

Some issues are better left unresolved. I wish they had left this one too. This romantic resolution compromised not only the story, but also the discourse on complex and difficult issue of sexual harassment at work. Next time something like this comes up, I hope people don’t start looking the other way, assuming that it is lovers’ tiff spilling over to professional life.