Thursday, November 19, 2015

Review Of 'Written By Salim-Javed'

This is Diptakirti's 4th book in 5 years, and 3rd on Bollywood (the first, and only non-Bollywood book was on cricket). His previous two Bollywood outings, Kitnay Aadmi Thay and Bollybook were out and out Bollywood masala trivia blockbusters. That is, Satyajit Ray level of research and Karan Johar style of easy entertainment. I have been a fan for a while now and also a friend, so there goes the disclaimer.

Slightly young to have missed the magic of these four words - 'Written by Salim-Javed' on the big screen, but old enough to get excited when they showed up during the Doordarshan movies on Friday and Saturday evenings, this book is as much dipped in nostalgia for our generation as gulab jamuns in sugar syrup. However, in spite of being fairly versed with the might of the duo on Bollywood during the 70s and early 80s, WBSJ is an eye opener in terms of how these two young men changed the entire profession of script writing and story in Bollywood by making it mainstream, glamorous, and most importantly respectable and well paying. The chutzpah displayed by them from their early struggling days is straight out of a Salim-Javed movie (trivia and quizzes at the end of the post). WBSJ is divided into five neat Parts: 1. Flashback (background till where S & J start the partnership), 2. The Partnership (basically the book itself, a deep dive into each movie they wrote together), 3. Split Wide Open (as the name suggests, the split), 4. Themes and Messages ( like an extended Guidebook for (2)) and 5. Impact & Legacy (self explanatory).

If there's one thing you can expect from a Salim-Javed script, it is drama. The equivalent in a Diptakirti book is painstaking research. As you cherish every nugget of Bollywood gold dust thrown at you, you feel like giving the author a hug for the hours he must have spent at elevated attention levels noting down tidbits for us. It is also quite obvious that the author is a fan, and the strain of reverence is explicit throughout, sometimes slightly embarrassingly like calling Javed Akhtar's daughter's 'Dil Dhadakne Do' a commercially and critically acclaimed venture. This is a man paying homage to two men who provided him with the object of his obsession - Bollywood in the 1970s and 1980s. He also conducted some first hand interviews with the protagonists of the book, but primarily relied extensively on old issues of trade magazines and other like minded contemporaries (e.g. Sriram Raghavan, film director) who associated themselves with the world of movies. These publications and individuals (film critic Sukanya Verma making regular appearances) come back again and again through the pages.

The book is really Parts (1) and (2), and through some fresh anecdotes, some of the most well known Bollywood stories, and simple yet clear language Diptakirti takes us through a journey of all S-J's 19 unforgettable movies. The chapters include a brief recap to refresh the memory or to aid you to follow along in case you missed one or two of these (you really shouldn't though!). Sholay, Deewar, Zanjeer, Trishul, Don, Shaan, and Shakti make the most appearances. It helps that the author, like the subject of the book, is an unabashed fan of Big B, and S-J and Big B wouldn't be what they are without each other.

Now for the 'critical' part of the review. If this was a movie I think he's made a 3.5 hours biopic which could have been easily wrapped up in 2 hours flat. The entire chapter (4) felt like the author took a hammer and was ensuring that nothing from Part (2) left our heads, ever. Too many lines were repeated almost verbatim, also some of the recaps. It felt like how many scriptwriters treat their audiences - babies that need to be fed with a large spoon, lest things fall off! The other bone I have to pick with Diptakirti is that while the previous two books were an edge of your seat thriller in a fact based, trivia filled way, this could have been a more leisurely, relaxed read. However, his style remained almost the same in both, more journalistic and narrative, and very little flair. Which would be fine for most authors writing non-fiction, but I have read his blogs for many years now and he can definitely add much more to the stories than telling the facts, absolutey mind-blowing ones, in a linear, almost dry approach. It is disappointing that S-J refused to share any real information about the split, which obviously will be a big reason for many to read the book, but can't fault the author for that.

While the family shops...
In spite of the previous paragraph I am certain I will be going back to this book every now and then as I do to KAT and Bollybook. Some smaller things that stand out are, a separate section for all the translated dialogues, rather than next to the italicized ones in Hindi, as that could be very distracting. Attention to detail throughout. Sticking to the premise of Salim-Javed for the majority of the book, and not spending too much time on the rest of their and their families careers. This would have been very tempting to do as they split almost 30 years back and Javed Akhtar in particular has attained as much, if not more, success as a lyricist as the pair did during their heydays as Salim-Javed.

Final rating: 4/5 (caveat: You MUST be a Bollywood fan to even pick this up)

Top 10 Trivia:

1. Salim Khan's father was in the police, and while growing up he heard stories of various criminals. Many of the more interesting ones stuck. There was a particularly cruel story about a legendary dacoit who cut off the ears and noses of all the policemen he caught. What was his name?

2. Salim was quite the writer in college, and earned a name for himself by writing love letters for his less articulate friends. Two of his close friends _____ Singh Rao Kalevar and ______ Singh were later immortalized by him. Fill in the blanks.

3. When Javed Akhtar was born, his father - Poet Jan Nisar Akhtar - a member of the Communist Party, went to the hospital with some friends. Instead of the tradition of reading the Azaan in the newborn's ears, what book, that he was carrying with him, did he read from?

4. Javed Akhtar during his struggling days would stay in a storeroom at Kamlistan, Amrohi's studio, and one night found three Filmfare Award trophies in a cabinet. He recalls holding the trophies reverently every night and pretending that he was receiving the award himself, rehearsing speeches even. Which legendary actress' trophies were these?

5. One of Javed Akhtar's drinking buddies offered to share a flat with him but Javed turned him down as he was not sure he would be able to pay the monthly rent. S-J later went on write some memorable roles for him, particularly one where he was pitted against Amitabh Bachchan. Who?

6. In Shakti, as well as the lesser known Akhri Daao (starring Jeetendra), the hero displays exemplary confidence during a job interview by replying to the same question - 'aap is kaam ko nahin jaante' - with the same words - what?

7. In a 1977 movie, Maha Badmash, a mysterious kingpin remained hidden in the shadows and instructed his minions in a booming voice. What was the name of this villain, later immortalized by S-J in a different movie?

8. In Yaadon Ki Baraat, a painter sees the killer Shakaal (Ajit) fleeing from the scene of the murder. He is seen wearing short kurtas and dark framed spectacles. This is much like a real-life legend of Bollywood, and the painter's name was also the same as this wordsmith. Who/what?

9. In which movie did they put their foot down against Amitabh Bachchan changing costumes throughout the second half as they said it would take away from the continuity and the thrill of the long scene?

10. What was Javed Akhtar's first outing as the script and story writer, after a long hiatus, in 2003 for his ex-wife Honey Irani's directorial debut?

Answers to Trivia:
1. Gabbar Singh
2. Jai and Virender
3. Communist Manifesto
4. Meena Kumari
5. Shatrughan Sinha (Kala Pathar)
6. 'Aur aap hume nahin jante'
7. Mogambo
8. Gulzar
9. Don
10. Armaan

Buy Now:

In India: Physical (Amazon, Flipkart), Kindle (Amazon)
In USA: Unavailable as of Nov-20-2015

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hindustanis And Bangalis

A friend, from Mumbai, recently commented that the great Indian Hindi divide to him was always North India V South India and was surprised when he came across a mild-anti Hindi jibe from a Bangali.

The Bangali-Hindi relationship is what Facebook should use as the "Learn More" mouseover on their 'It's Complicated' status.

Growing up in Asansol, a small (by Indian standards) industrial city on the West Bengal-Bihar/Jharkhand border, the Hindi-Bangali divide was clear. Rather the Bangali-Hindustani divide. Yes, you read that right, we Bangalis are not Hindustanis. In broad strokes we Bangalis had culture, the Hindustanis had money. We couldn't live without fish and meat, they couldn't stand them. And I don't say this with a sense of superiority because both parties accepted and approved the social structure. The Hindustanis would think of us as 'padhe likhe hai, lekin becharon ke paas paisa nahi hai' (Those guys are well educated, but poor people don't have much money). And we would publicly feign a lack of interest in their wealth, as coveting wealth is looked down upon in the bhodro (polite) Bangali society, and privately aspire to be like them one day. At the same time, publicly we'd say some politically correct stuff about their eco-friendly humane eating habits and come home and say "Ei veg kheye kheye betara borolok hoe gelo. Tobe jai bol, shara jibon veg kheye Ambani hobar theke amader oi moddhobitto machh-bhat jibon onek bhalo" (These bloody folks make all their money by saving on fish and meat. And say what you will, it's better to be enjoy the middle class life with fish and meat than be an Ambani and remain a vegetarian for life).

Coming to the language piece, which sparked this discussion. All Bangalis from an early age are reminded of this "2nd sweetest language in the world" title that we had been bestowed upon by some unquestionable authority (right after French, because what's a good story without specifics?) This was the pre-Internet era equivalent of 'forwards' that was passed from one generation to the next. Now we must have a Facebook photo doing the rounds of Rabindranath accepting this award from a white person. So, with this absolute certainty of enjoying a linguistic superiority over all other Indian languages, we tried to speak Hindi, the national language (consolation prize, as it was still far from the sweetest). These efforts always included a sense of condescension, which for some reason wasn't the case when speaking English (another language we crushed in that legendary language awards show). With English we would practice our pronunciations and vet them with the English medium convent-educated types. Our faces would turn beet red if someone ever pointed out a slight issue in the way we delivered a word. Hindi was a different ball game. We almost elevated its stature by speaking in it. To give it an even higher pedestal in life we adopted the poor Hindustani's language, and processed it such the final product was just a mild variation of Bangla. While this has been lampooned by Bollywood for decades, the bhodrolok sees no humour there. As a friend's mother was once bargaining with a vegetable vendor in Delhi, in chaste Bangla. The poor Hindustani was at his wit's end but continuing his part of the bargain till they agreed on some price. When the friend asked her mother why did she think he, a North Indian uneducated vendor, would understand her nuanced Bangali arguments about the fair price of cauliflowers, she replied in a matter of fact way "Takar kotha shobai bujhte parta hai" (everyone figures out everything in terms of money). Trivia: In Bengal we refer to money as 'Taka' which by the way is the official currency of Bangladesh, India's is Rupees or Rupiya as the Hindustanis refer to it.

If you try to corner us about our lack of Hindi skills we will tell you that some of our boys, like Bimal and Abhash have created greater art in Hindi (their second or third language) than any native speaker will ever come close to emulating. So 'tumhara yeh Hindi bok bok bandh karo, aur sab Bangla seekh lo jaldi jaldi, World's #1 language hoga hum, dekh lena.' (So stop your nonstop Hindi chatter and quickly learn Bangla. It's about to become the world's #1 language. Mark my words).

Friday, October 02, 2015

Playing Quiz Up with Suhel

[This is a guest post by my good friend Abhishek Paul, who posted here a few times back in 2006

Well, I had written on this blog many years ago, and it actually feels nice to come back here and write, what I told Suhel would be a little "Roast" of him. Many readers of this blog would know Suhel through different ways. I got to know him during our time in college together, at St. Xavier's Kolkata. I will not be amiss in saying that he has always come across as a "stud",albeit a nerdy, geeky,  knowledgeable one. And given his legendary prowess as a Quizzer and a Quiz Master, a picture of his idol as a Quiz Master seems quite apt to describe my impression of him :)

We have stayed in touch over the years "leveraging" many distinct forms of social media to do so. And this year, with the World Cup as the reason, Suhel created a WhatsApp group of his friends that has now morphed to resemble something like this.
Ocean's, oops Suhel's Eleven
There are no prizes for guessing who's Danny Ocean here. Often the contents of this group make Danny & Rusty (MM) look at their screens like this !
What are they even saying !
A few days ago, Quiz Up, the now world famous quizzing app came into discussion and since then Mr. "Enthu Cutlet" Suhel started a quizzing tournament which has now become the sole focus of this group. I could not help myself from trying to visualise how Suhel looks - as he goes on conducting (& playing ) this quiz tournament with great elan.

(All gifs & stuff, below are from the movie, Starter for 10, starring among others - that other brilliant brainy stud - Benedict Cumberbatch as Suhel ).

So here's Suhel - all excited at the start of the quiz - introducing concepts and rulestumblr_no7otkWdL91u57c32o6_500.gif (500×281)

And now, with that done, Suhel kicks things off
tumblr_inline_moqeb6m1481qz4rgp.gif (500×281)

Quite frequently, peculiar situations come up, like a tie for example. Suhel, expertly makes convincing rules on the fly and then explains them those rules and regulations Like a Boss. (Or Like N Srinivasan if you may :D ) 

tumblr_mnslmg0bQQ1ss6e5ao3_500.gif (500×249)
[This is an aside, but some of us in the group have suggested, that Suhel might have got into trouble with the bad boys in school given his utter (though charming) "nerdy" bossiness. Well, if Suhel did gets into a fight - it would be like this ]

Coming back, as happens with a group of Indians, we rarely do things on time - in fact some of us are quite proud of taking our own, sweet time. And that leaves a bloodied and bruised Suhel - screaming and pleading at folks to get on with things - giving ultimatums - like this. 

tumblr_lpaq77NO2W1qd1s3ho1_500.gif (500×239)

We really don't know how these Quiz Wars will end, here's hoping SRK, I mean Sherlock, I mean Suhel keeps up his spirit and his enthusiasm for the things he loves. He gets people together like no else I know.

This ended up being more a Toast, than a Roast - but I think that's all right :).

Cheers !