Tuesday, December 27, 2011 12 comments

IN THE DARK SHADOW OF FAME


I have been wanting to see the film “Dirty Picture” for some time now but thanks to the holiday season tickets are not so easy to come by. Besides, I have been ill which has restricted my mobility outside home. So, I decided to make the best of the situation and watch some films on DVD.

I saw last night a Bengali film “ Iti Mrinalini” ( meaning Yours Sincerely, Mrinalini). A very moving film ,it was about an aging actress who is about to commit suicide. As she writes her suicide note her mind flashes through her life- her hey days , her affair with a director- yes, a married man with whom she had a child but who never married her! She pines for the child who dies in an accident, the man who she loved but who could not leave his wife and children  for her, her break up with him and her subsequent  relationships with various other men all of whom except one used her for their own ends. The film had some superb acting by the mother daughter duo - Aparna and Konkona Sen, both  playing the same character at different points in time of course!

Stories such as these seem to abound in the film world! We had Marilyn Monroe, who ,to quote Elton John lived her life like a “Candle in the wind”. I had read a biography of hers a couple of years ago and I remember being shocked by the way she was exploited by so many men – the illustrious American President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy included! 

Closer home there is Silk Smitha and Shobha two stars who took their own lives!

It makes me wonder what is it about such lives that drives one to such despair? There is often a man involved – a mentor, usually a director/ producer or a senior co star who is a married. I know I should not be judgmental but considering that these women have the world at their feet, why do they get involved with such uncaring brutes? It seems almost like masochism! I cannot believe that the film world does not have decent men who can give them a good life! But it is obviously not just the men who exploit these women.

If we look closer and deeper into the lives of some of the big women stars in our industry, we can see that their lives are actually not even in their own hands. There are many examples of parents exploiting these girls – Sridevi and Hema Malini two leading ladies who were totally controlled by their mothers! Interestingly, both these women ended up rebelling against this control by “marrying” already married men. The story of Sridevi is probably more pathetic- she had been acting from the time she was a child and had no control over anything in her life. Her mother pocketed the money and is said to have pushed her into all the casting couches possible. In the case of Hema Malini too the story is similar. In most cases the parents do not want the daughter married as they feel that the “golden goose” would then be lost. Actress Padmini Kolhapure had to elope out of her own house to get married as her parents were opposed to her marriage!

When I hear these stories I am reminded of the “madams” in the brothels of the red light districts! They keep their girls similarly under tight control exploiting them until they are able to get a decent price for their bodies! Most of these women end up having  love affairs with  some of their favourite clients, running away with them dreaming of marriage but finally ending up doing the same work for a different master!

Though  I find it horrible to compare the lives of our leading female stars to these unfortunate women, I realize that when you are a woman the chances of being exploited are very high. If money and fame does not give you the power to control your own destiny then it is really sad…!!! These so called “marriages”  to married men are nothing but a sham that these ladies put up. It is a bold woman like Nina Gupta who had a child out of wedlock and refused to name the father.

Somewhere along the way, I realize that despite society having progressed the controls on women have not changed much.  We see Aishwarya Rai, the most beautiful woman in the world, playing the docile “Bacchan Bahu”  as her mother-in- law says in an interview that her daughter-in-law appeals to her because she “knows to keep her mouth shut in front of her elders”!

I don’t know whether it is the fear of public opinion that makes these ladies behave the way they do? If that is so then it is really silly because these women have the power to change public opinion by the way they conduct themselves. Respect for Nina Gupta has in no way fallen after her motherhood.

But then as somebody once told me, when you live in a make believe world you live amidst a lot of insecurities and these insecurities can break you! Besides, if your business is about marketing emotions, you are likely to get caught up in them - Just as working in a cement factory may make you suffer from asthma, similarly working in the film world may make you more vulnerable to emotional breakdowns. Women, Iare more vulnerable to this than men.. not just because of the way they are made but also because their coping strategies and safety nets in situations such as this are lower.

I wish the media would be more sensitive while reporting about the lives of these women – there is more to them than their bodies and their relationships. However, as long as there are people like us out there in the world waiting to “lap up” the  gossip ,the media, I guess will continue to report about them.  And hypocrites that we are, we will continue reading about it, and making judgments …!


                 


Wednesday, December 21, 2011 13 comments

LOOKING THROUGH THE MIRROR OF TIME

Like most of us I have also wondered what it would be like to go back into the past ? I actually did a post on it early this year  Journey in  a time machine Ever since , I have had this longing to see myself as I was then.

Sounds silly? Well, then so be it! 

One of the places that I have wanted to go back to  has been my school. My mind has often wandered through those corridors, relived those moments and those relationships. This is more so because I no longer live in Kolkata where I did my schooling. I live in Chennai- a city that is as different from the city of my childhood as chalk is from cheese!

So when I found that our school was holding a reunion on the 18th of December it did not take me more than a moment to decide that I would go. Actually, this was the first reunion ever in the two hundred year odd history of the school Our seniors from the 1977 batch got this together and suddenly, I found that face book was buzzing with activity around the school page.

People in Chennai asked me if I was mad to spend Rs 11000 plus on a plane ticket just for this( interestingly no one in Kolkata ever mentioned this- tells you about the fundamental difference between the two cities!). I had no second thoughts. I mean, I could have spent it on a sari, jewelery or something else. I did not see this as an expenditure – more an investment in those relationships.

I have not been in touch with many friends – just about 2-3. But again thanks to face book atleast in the virtual world, we had made contact with more . So, this was the moment to make the virtual image a real one. My friend Maitreyee, the most efficient organizer that she is started to contact “girls” from our batch. She collected numbers, addresses and through what is called the “ghost to ghost hook up”  got in touch with every one that she could. Of course I helped out. I contacted Sushma while she was probably being chased by a rhino during her holiday at Kaziranga, sent a text message to a number on my phone that did not have a name and asked   "Are you Chaitali!!!" 

I wanted initially to just do a day trip- land in the morning – go to school and return at night. But ofcourse, Maitreyee our own “ Ma Durga” would hear none of it! She convinced me to at least consider arriving the previous day and leave the day later.

The excitement around the event was too much! When the plane touched down at the Netaji Subhash airport, I got up even before the seat belt sign was switched off. After being reprimanded by a severe looking Air India stewardess I tried to contain my excitement by holding on to the handles of my seat. I could not wait for the baggage to arrive and once I had my suitcase I went out straight into the arms of Shampa and Maitreyee. I was so touched that both of them had come personally to pick me up.

After a brief visit to Shampa’s  house where she collected her  things for the “sleepover” we were at Maitreyee’s. I think we would have gossiped till 1 AM ör more! There is a beautiful Bangla word to describe his - "Golpo Korchi" - literally meaning "exchanging stories". It seems to have a more serious tone when compared to the word "Adda"

The event was to start at 10.00AM. Maitreyee who had collected all our passes wanted to be early so as not to keep anyone waiting. But of course we did not see it that way- we teased her about trying to be the “good ” girl from the 1980s – “Are you going to sweep the compound?” Shampa wanted to know!

But arguing with a taurean is not easy. They usually get their way. We finally started out at 8.45AM.

The city of Kolkata has changed so much..  I kept looking out for trams and the familiar  run down private buses. I almost gave out a shout at my first sight of a mini bus – “Alipore to BBD bag”. A fly over has been constructed in front of the Victoria Memorial. But down that I could see the race course  on one side and the Rabindra Sadan on the opposite end…We passed the zoo, the national library and suddenly I found that we were turning in at Mominpur into Diamond Harbour road! The last time I was on this road was in 1985!

The entrance into school was most emotional with shouts of “ Oh my god” ‘’ EEEEE”!  We hugged our teachers and friends who we could recognize. Some of us had become fat, others had lost a lot of weight while yet others had gone gray..It was a very emotional moment when our Hindi teacher Mrs Goela entered the gates. As I ran to her she hugged me with tears in her eyes. She is over seventy now but still had the same hairstyle and neatly tied sari. Geography teacher Miss Gupta was driven in and helped out of a car. She too had aged a lot and was very frail. Mrs Ghosh our English teacher  still sported her huge bindi though she had become almost unrecognizably thin. With Miss Mazumdar who taught us history and English in classes six and seven  it was as though time had stood still. She looked exactly the same!  Mrs  Hariharan our Maths teacher in 9th and 10th looked younger than she had when she was in school ( God bless her!). Mrs Chatterjee our class teacher in class 7B was her same gentle self. All of them had retired from the school!
 
It was very funny but someone rang a bell for assembly and we gathered outside the assembly hall ( the hall was taken over by the caterers who had arranged tables and chairs for the meals). There was so much of commotion that Alpana who was announcing had to keep shouting “Girls! Girls! Please be quiet” –almost like what it was during those days.

We sang a very old hymn. I never realized that I even remembered it. But the tune clicked in my mind and I could ,manage the main lines “I have come to thee.. to take thy touch before I begin my day” Somehow this hymn always made me feel very spiritual. When we sang the school song there was not need to look at the words. Everyone knew it from memory. There was a prayer by the current principal Sr. Lucy followed by a message from one of the older principals who was not in India. We missed Sr. Rose who had passed away a few months ago- she had been the principal when we had passed out!

The teachers sang too – a lovely Rabindra Sangeet ‘ Purano Shei diner kotha”. Reminisces were shared, teachers were honored and then we sat down in the auditorium to have breakfast. I felt very strange eating breakfast there. The last time I had been there was during my public exam in class X.

We had a tour of the school-  what used to be classes, 1, 2 , 5,  6, 7,  8,  9, the library, the forbidden wooden carpeted staircase that led from the principal’s officer to the first floor- only teachers could use it during our days. The bird cage below the stair case was missing. But I did not realize it until Sushma pointed it out to me a couple of days later…

It was so crazy to look at the desks to see if we could find any of the names that we had engraved there with our compasses. We even went to the toilet and  drank water from the water taps below the staircase. We found that there was a smart water dispenser there now. Students probably drank mineral water from that instead of the taps through which we used to. I must say that I drank water from those taps  every day of  the six years that I was there but never ever fell sick!

There were new buildings  and tiles installed on the walls where there used to oil paint. Probably more easy to clean but somehow the walls without that maroon paint upto 3 feet before the white wash began seemed strange. We also found that the old pictures of saints  that were reprints of the works of renaissance painters housed in wooden frames and suspended by strings from the nails on the walls had given way on some walls to garish pictures  mounted on wooden boards! The wide verandahs with their ornate railings,  the  windows with shutters were now covered with grills giving the place a jail like appearance. Somehow it did not fit with what I had stored in my memory.

“The nuns do not seem so ferocious now” said one of my friends. Well certainly not – because we had grown up and some were probably older than the current principal! But the school had obviously kept up with its academic performance. We applauded as one of the teachers announced the name of a girl who had passed out last year getting 98.3% in her ISC exam with 100% in Economics!!!

More gossip, some discussion about formation of a formal alumni association and then lunch! Friends teased each other threatening to tell the teachers about how some of us used to sleep in their classes. The old nicknames of the teachers were being freely used – the wonderful souls did not seem to mind! The ice cream man had come in and many of us rushed in to have ice cream sticks! “No cones or cups” screamed someone. Those days a stick ice cream from Kwality costed anything between 30 Paise to 60 paisa. Ofcourse there were special ones like choco bar which was Rs 1.10. We never had the resources to buy cup ice creams! The phuchka man and the jhalmuri man outside were obviously not there. We remembered how we used to eat these forbidden stuff- groups of girls taking turns to watch out for sister or the teachers while their friends ate. My friend Maitreyee almost got caught red handed once – but she had the presence of mind to drop her leaf and rush out on to the road pretending to stop a bus – only it was a lorry that she found herself face to face with! The trams outside school were missing. There were green colour autos plying instead. I missed the No 35 tram that used to take us to school and back.  We used to pay 20 p to ride first class and 15 p to ride second! Some enterprising girls used to ride second class for a week using the 5 p saved each day to eat 25p worth of puchkas!

We discussed the film stars we had lost our hearts to – Kumar Gaurav being the most popular! “Love story” had just been releasedin 1980. After years of watching a middle aged Amitabh Bacchan,  KG was a sight for sore eyes! There used to be a group that rooted for Sanjay Dutt. They told us gleefully how thirty years ago we had backed a loser- “Where is this Kumar Gaurav now”!

Time seems to run when we have good times. It seemed like 5 PM so soon.. and it was time to head home.

It is very strange but we had actually not discussed anything much about our present. That happened after we got back when we started calling each other up wanting to know what we were doing, what our husbands were doing!! I think that is the magic of a childhood friendship- it does not judge you by your current status. It just accepts you for what you are because you are a friend ! It does not matter if you are CEO, housewife, married, divorced or a spinster

I cannot thank my alma mater enough for what it has instilled in me. My concepts in Science and Maths are so clear and my English pronunciation excellent! I was introduced to some of the best books in the school library and the poetry that was taught to us was par excellence! None of us ever went for a day of private tuition! We managed with what we had understood and each of us tried to help the other out where it was not possible. Teachers ofcourse drilled these concepts into our heads till they buried themselves deep inside! They saw our education as a sacred duty entrusted to them and not a job that they were paid to do!

And finally and most importantly were those values that remain with us today. When I see Maitreyee taking care of her ailing father like his own mother, when Shampa’s daughters touch my feet to take my blessings or when I hear of Sushma nursing a pet like a child, I know that these are some manifestations of those core values that we learnt – to love, to care to respect ! All of us carry it and they have seen us through life.

The words of the school song say ….
“ Life is a test where we must do our best
   Whether in work or in play
    Strengthen your efforts
    Maintain your zeal\
   Play up and play the game”

I am proud to say  that we HAVE done our best!
Friday, December 9, 2011 16 comments

LOVE- WITHOUT THAT LETTER….!!


Remember that song – “ Likhe jo khat tujhe.. woh teri yaad mein..”. Now imagine these words “Likhe jo email tujhe woh teri yaad mein” or “ Posted jo status message tujhe..?” or worse.. “Phool tujhe bheja hai  khat mein…”  or “Phool ki taswir bheja hai email mein?”

These- my friends  are the challenges of love in the 21st century!

There was a time when a swan was the conduit of the message of love between Nala and Damayanti.. today it is the internet!

I still cannot come to terms with this…

Nothing can surpass the pleasure of pouring your heart out to a loved one on that piece of paper. The movement of the pen on paper is like the beating of your heart. You can choose stationery you like , indulge in calligraphy and poetry to your heart’s content finally sealing it with those petals of flowers inside..

And then there is the time and effort you have to invest in to identify the appropriate courier service! The Indian Postal system certainly has its advantages in terms of  promptness of delivery but it also carries with it the dangers of being delivered into the wrong hands ( parents of the beloved?). So what do you do? Find a pigeon- who is often in the human form -  a friend or that kid living next door. If it is the later you have to pray that s/he remembers to deliver it all the while keeping it safe from prying eyes and hands. If it is a friend then .. it is safer! But then you might meet some “friends” like me or my kind  who delivered letters promptly but made sure that they  were allowed to read parts of it  ( just for kicks!)!  There are of course  those really “dangerous” lot of people who accept to be couriers only to tear up the letter, blackmail the sender/ recipient  or worse write a reply spurning your love.. remember how many stories have been written on that?

 Now tell me can the internet compete with any of these? For instance, it limits the font and style options and as also the writing stationery. It often leads one to type out single letters for complete words  “u”  for “you” is a prime example.. Nothing wrong you might say as it conveys the message adequately enough! But then communication when one is in love is not exactly telegraphic.. one wants to communicate verbally and non verbally- unfortunately in terms of verbal communication in the absence of direct speech U is a poor substitute! We also lose the thrill of receiving in our hands a piece of paper that the loved one has touched with his/ her fingers – silly you say? But then whoever said that people in love were logical? You are silly, crazy and mad.. ! You long for connection but an email or that wall on face book or a text message are poor substitutes for the connection and communication that being in love demands!

I am sometimes surprised when I see some status messages on face book. They are obviously meant for someone special but unfortunately the forum is too public and all your 200 plus friends read it too!!!  Then there are a few annoying ones like me who make some comment on that message embarrassing the living daylights out of the poor person for whom the message was meant  ( because you see I may be one person’s friend but not the other’s )

Sure the telephone is still  around and with a mobile  it is almost like holding his/ her hand all the time… ! I would again like to say that  nothing is like the written word!

Ask any woman of my generation how she felt when she received her first love letter? It is the first certificate in writing about your being an attractive person! You can  have someone tell it to you directly but a letter can be read, re read and re interpreted! You can see the handwriting and sometimes (like me)  notice the grammar and punctuation too deciding if the person is educated enough or well read enough to be worthy of your affection! You can store them in a box or tie them up with a red ribbon reading them when you are in your forties , fifties or seventies..! Tell me can you do that with email? I suppose you can take back ups but with the quick evolution of technology everything even ten years old quickly becomes redundant…!!!  First there was email and now there is skype! 

Let me make it clear , I am not against technology for communication. Blogging for example is one major breakthrough in terms of what technology can do to encourage people to express themselves. But there is still communication that demands a certain intimacy which can only come out of human efforts. I treasure those cards my husband sent me during our days of courtship where I can see his name  scrawled laboriously across the paper along with some interesting quote!  He is not much of a writer- has a handwriting that has not evolved out of middle school but then that is him.. and what I have on those sheets of paper are the efforts he made to reach out to me – hand writing notwithstanding! The writing of the human hand is very unique – almost like a thumb print..! It is like having a part of the person on paper.

I wonder if it is something to do with the way society as a whole has changed today? There is a certain casualness and flippancy in whatever we say or do. We are also very economical in our use of words – LOL, ROFL… I guess it requires an entirely new dictionary to be created! Somewhere along the way it also indicates the limitations we have by way of time..!

But seriously, if we are not able to invest in a relationship in terms of time and effort is it surprising that the number of break ups are on the rise?


Tuesday, December 6, 2011 11 comments

GAM AUR KHUSHI MEIN FARK NA MEHSOOS HO JAHAN - A tribute to the Evergreen Hero of Hindi Films


Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya. Har Fikr ko dhuen mein udata chala gaya”( I continued my companionship with life blowing away all cares into smoke ) goes the song…!

But not any more.
 Life, and the man emoting the song parted ways on the 4th of December 2011! 

The death of Dev Anand is something that I still cannot believe! He was not called the “evergreen hero” for nothing!

I don’t know when I developed this passion for Dev Saab’s films.  I used to find him quite funny initially – what with his shaking head and lop sided smile..! I was actually quite annoyed when I saw the way “Guide” was made. I was inclined to agree with R. K. Narayan when he said that it was his “Misguided guide”! And then one day I saw “Tere Mere Sapne” – an adaptation of an A. J Cronin Novel and I must say that I developed an interest in this actor and his films.

As I grew older I found myself appreciating music from films a lot and that was when I got hooked to Dev Saab’s films. I love his  black and white movies more than his colour films.

Some of my favourites “ Dil ka bhanwar kare pukar” which has Nutan and him on a tower ( Qutb minar?) romancing along the winding steps. I love his style when Madhubala tries to console him in the song “Accha ji main hari chalo maan jao na” .  Or when he is drunk and singing about building a house  – “ek  ghar banaoonga tere ghar ke samne”

While Rafi was the voice behind many of the songs above, in the later films it was Kishore . But of the two singers I think it was Rafi’s voice that suited Dev Anand’s persona the best. I love the way Rafi slurs at the end of some of the lines when he sings for Dev Saab!

Dev Anand was called India’s Gregory Peck ( another favourite of mine) but I would like to think that each one of these men was different and attractive in his own unique way. It would be unfair to compare one to the other…!

The interesting thing about Dev Saab was that he was forever young…!  There was a joke that someone told me after watching his interview on NDTV a few months ago – “Dev will make another movie next with a girl young enough to be his grand daughter” He introduced many new girls into the movie business – most notable one among them being Zeenat Aman. Unlike Raj Kapoor I must say that his camera treated his heroines with respect – we did not have him exposing them unnecessarily!

I like the range of subjects that his films handled. Actually coming back to “Guide” I feel today that it probably took guts to make a film like that – about a relationship between a married woman and the hero.  The song “Katon se kheech ke aanchal- tod ke bandhan bandhe payal” today sounds to me like a song about a woman’s  liberation!

A man who even at eighty eight was alert and alive.. death is not something that is going to wipe him out from history so easily. His songs and his mannerisms live on – not to mention his style.

Rest in Peace Dev Saab… !  Enjoy your re union with the men whose voices contributed to your fame – Rafi and Kishore .

We will miss you!!!  “ke dil abhi bhara nahin”

 
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