Friday, July 23, 2010

A post a day...

Its an utopian ideal, a promise broken without exception every time I make it, a promise broken so many times that I have out of shame stopped counting. Yet I convinced myself to take it up once more. It is within the realm of possibility, I assured myself. Can't you even take 15 minutes daily off your insanely wasteful time scheduling for the one thing that never seems like work, I question the man in the mirror? Yes, I will write one post on my blog a day, I had told myself the day before yesterday. Even if it meant writing something so essentially purposeless as this post. And here I am, writing this post to make up for yesterday because as you would expect I have already messed up on my "a post a day" promise once again.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Judgement Day

It had been sometime in May 2006, when I had sworn myself off voluntarily writing any more exams. My engineering B.Tech degree was done and I was through with formal studies. As the world around me went crazy over CAT, GRE, GATE, GMAT, ICS and various other similarly acronymed monsters, I preferred to fade way in the background as attending sleepy afternoon classes and end of term exams were not my definition of fun. So I decided to begin work instead and have steadily stuck to my wise decision! It did turn out that the first few months at work were more like an exam every day without a pre-defined syllabus but at least there was no one grading the sheets and minimum attendance meant a healthy sum of money being deposited at the end of every month. With my long American stint being the proverbial cherry on the cake, I was happy... some would say too happy. Things were coming to a head and vindictive spirits had to have their own.

So it was that an exam was announced at work. The month long technical training in welding types that we had had was to be put to the test and we were told of the date 2 weeks in advance. I was shell shocked! 4 years of corporate life and no one had even suggested an evaluation of this level. It was like a forgotten nightmare had returned to haunt me. So worried was I that like so many of  past semester exams, I managed to avoid touching the study material before today, that was the long announced day of reckoning. I woke up early to try and make a last minute hash of the vast sea of welding knowledge before me, all the while praying for divine intervention in postponing the exam, parrying the danger away even if only for a while. At the time when  I usually leave, it started raining... really really heavily. I cheered up "This is it then! Divine intervention at its best. 4-5 hours of this deluge and all of Calcutta would soon bring out their monsoon time swimming trunks." The joy was very cruelly short lived! The rain stopped abruptly after about 15 minutes almost as if someone had suddenly grabbed it by the neck and chucked it out of a 15th floor window. 

Grumbling and still rolling the abysmally small morsels of information about welding in my head, I looked around for my helmet, found it too easily and hoisted myself onto my motorcycle to make my way to work. And what do you know... the rains came to life again when I was halfway between work and home, on an long open section of the road without sufficient tree cover and drenched me to the bone without rhyme or reason. The first shelter I found under a big enough tree, I stopped and lo behold, the rain immediately ceased too. Here was another opportunity presented to me. With my soaked clothes, walking into my office's Air Conditioned interiors meant death by pneumonia or such like, therefore giving me a solid reason to return home and stay there. But a brighter idea blazed inside my not-as-bright mind.

The self-incepted plan was that I would still go to work despite my wet dog like condition. Going back home now would entail coming back to work in a fresh set of clothes by lunchtime as the exam was scheduled for 16:00 hours. So my master plan was to attend work and then when the chills/mild fever came to me just after lunch, as they surely would inside the cool environs of my workplace, leave for home citing authentic sickness. But as my luck for the day would have it, the clothes dried themselves to the driest possible in the billowing AC breeze and in the time that I was hoping it would take but none of the evaporation had the slightest ill-effect on me. I felt as hale and hearty as an ox roaming free on a meadow. No chills, zero colds, not even the ghost of a fever. 16:00 hours came and so did the adversary from whom I had been on the run for the past 4 years. Today was as far as I am concerned, my Judgement Day and nothing could save me from my sad, ugly, lazy fate!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dog dreams

All this buzz about "Inception" and its central theme of dreams has got me thinking. What might dogs dream of or specifically little dachshunds dream of? As incredible as it may seem, dogs dream too and if human dreams are sometimes so strange, how strange would a dog's dream be? When my dog is up to something in her dream world, it is quite easy to tell. Look at her and she is fast asleep, curled up in a ball, taking a break from being the guardian  of all items in the house and from being the security personnel in charge of sniffing every incoming visitor but in that sleep state she starts making a soft sound which can best be approximated as "Knip! Knip! Knip!... Knip! Knip! Knip!" as though she is barking away at something deep inside her canine mind.

Does she see her original mom and siblings, not her adopted human family? Or does she dream of being a big dog, a significant physical presence when she ventures out into the street for her daily week as opposed to the long tube with legs persona that Nature has gifted her with? Maybe she fulfills her wish of being able to climb the walls of our house like Spiderman if only to get to the geckos which roam on them and whom she keeps eying with a hunter's intentions never mind the 15 vertical feet of unwalkable air that lie in between. Better still, her most pleasant dream might be to live in a house made of bones. I guess we'll never find out unless someone makes one of those talking collar things that they show affixed on Charles F. Muntz's dogs in that great movie "Up"!

Monday, July 19, 2010

When in emergency

When running short of ideas or the enthusiasm to begin something afresh, borrow! So I shall resort to that most convenient of options and talk about one of those funny moments which enliven the proceedings of a 9 to 5 day job for a day or two just by the thought of having been there, and revelled  in the humour that was in the air. It was such an evident thing that in retrospect we were all surprised that it didn't strike us earlier!

The building in which my office is housed is all of 18 floors and has a healthy mix of different companies taking groups of floors. Consequently the 12 elevators in the building (10 if you consider that at least two of them are always under maintenance at any given time) serve the needs of a huge number of people and a few half-minutes/minutes of patient wait for the lift to show up are a given. By the time the lift does show up, there are only two moods possible, joviality on the faces of those who were not in such a big hurry and used the interval to take a crack or two at their bosses' eccentricities, or obvious grumpiness on those faces who had piles of unfinished, behind schedule work waiting for them. It was to the former group that the two guys laughing their hearts out at some inside joke belonged to as they hopped into the lift from the 3rd floor parking joining the rest of us already in there. Then they couldn't stop laughing as their pleasant mood brought to their notice a sticker which had been pasted inside all the lifts since they had put into operation.

The sticker says "In case of emergency, please dial toll free number 1-800-XYZ-ABC". The question which one of the merry guys posed out aloud was simple and very pertinent. Hundreds of trips on those lifts by hundreds of people, yet no one had ever thought about it. The question which sent a rumble of loud laughter through all those present in the lift including me, taking their mind off work temporarily was "Which genius trapped inside a lift would really care if the rescue number was a TOLL FREE number or not, in case there was an actual emergency?" No one perhaps, except the genius who gave the instructions to print such instructions!!!

The most contagious and resilient...

This Saturday was definitely the luckiest Saturday of my life as far as watching movies goes. I managed to see two incredible movies of total genius and total dissimilarity in terms of subject; see it as all movies are meant to be watched, in two huge darkened cinema halls undisturbed by the world outside and with full concentration as I was without the luxury of having a pause & rewind button. In my opinion, its the only fair way to appreciate how good or how bad a movie really is. Even the largest TV screen size, highest quality LCD and the best home theatre sound system while relaxing in the most comfortable of Lazy Boy armchairs are nothing but a poor substitute for what is the magic of something appropriately called the BIG SCREEN. 

What seems a strange coincidence is the importance of the time period of 10 years to both the directors of both these movies. It took "Inception" director, Chris Nolan, 10 years to bring to a satisfactory conclusion to the idea which came into his head (incepted or otherwise :P) and make this brilliant movie. And it also took "Udaan" director Vikramaditya Motwane 10 long years to find a producer for his script. It was only rescued by close friend and fellow path-breaking filmmaker Anurag Kashyap. 

Taking up "Inception" and its beautiful concept of shared dreams, dream architects, totems first, there is no absolutely no denying the brilliance of Chris Nolan's ideas and their supernatural execution by him. The movie lived up to the reputation of the director who specializes in creating deep, dark brain-testing-and-eventually-brain-frazzling blockbusters like "Memento", "Insomnia", "The Prestige", "Batman begins" and "The Dark Knight". With Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role, a certain minimum number of drooling, swooning female fans was a guarantee under any circumstances and so was a record breaking opening with all the money the studio had put into promoting the movie & ensuring a world wide opening. That the movie lived up to its hype is a matter of great credit to yet another powerhouse DiCaprio acting performance and the extreme film-making skills of Chris Nolan, but let's face it... after "Memento" & "The Dark Knight", even if Nolan had mucked it up, there would be the usual quota of Nolan/"The Matrix" fan-boys who would end up raving about it all over the Internet and channel at least a few hundred million dollars down Nolan's (or his studio's) pockets before anyone even realized that they were being ripped off. The reputation of the man precedes him and he surely has worked hard enough to deserve such a high pedestal. As I watched in crystal clear detail on an I-NOX screen, the spectacular dream worlds of Nolan's imagination, my thoughts wound back to my experience earlier in the day (in fact just a few hours earlier) about an altogether different setting for an altogether different movie.

I had stumbled my way through the dark of the Metro Cinema Hall, a few minutes late for the 15:00 hours show of "Udaan". None of the multiplexes were playing the movie so I had to buy tickets in one of the oldest stand-alone halls in the historic Esplanade area of Calcutta. No lighting in between the seats meant that I stepped on a lot of angry toes while getting to my seat and the sound quality & picture quality was such that I had to strain both my ears and my eyes to keep track of the story. But I am glad for that. Because in those couple of hours of rapt attention which I devoted to this movie, I was totally caught up in the story like the director would have wanted his audience to be caught. The stark, simple storyline of a 17 year old boy, expelled from boarding school trapped between his tyrannical yet concern-driven father's wishes, his own writing ambitions and the alternately funny & touching relationship that he shares with his little step-brother is not the stuff that song-and-dance candy floss Hindi romances or special effects loaded Hollywood summer releases are about, yet it jumps several levels above all those imaginary scenarios by virtue of its believability, a criteria rarely considered important in the world of movies. The spontaneous applause from the audience at the superbly choreographed climax of the movie, as our guy wins in that one race that mattered the most, was a timely reminder that when it comes to stirring human emotions, all you need is the talent to strum the right strings, not the loosening of the purse strings of some big-wig corporate studios. As I came out of the hall, I was happy as hell and watching the late night show of "Inception" threw further light onto why I was really so happy. 

Cobb in "Inception" famously (Come on, people, you know this dialogue will be part of cinema's golden dialogues) talks about an idea being the most contagious and resilient of all viruses. So it was that an idea came to Vikramaditya Motwane to make a coming-of-age movie, a tale of one guy's passion for writing and concessions to society without any "love angle", a concept unheard of in Hindi movies and indeed rarely seen in any foreign movie too. No heroine or no romance was definitely a no-go in the extra-sweet land of Shahrukh Khan and "Jab We Met". But the idea stayed on in his head, resilient, as Motwane assisted Sanjay Leela Bhansali on "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam" and "Black" and established himself as a notable name in Bollywood through his script for "Dev D". Still no takers for his story though, a story based in the dry, featureless locales of steel town Jamshedpur (No scope for Swiss mountainsides or skimpily clad starlets here); a story about driving around in a Contessa round and round a traffic circle in the dead of the night with ordinary looking male buddies, somewhat drunk and laughing at things very ordinary (What? Still no heroine, broken romances, jeep blowing action and multi-starrer guest appearances? Is this even a movie?); a story of how the breaking point is reached and the hero takes flight, his revolt, his deliverance from a life of torture and subjugation (Yawn! Art movie stuff, you think? So just watch this movie... and come back to tell me that you were not moved by it). 

But an idea, as Cobb said, is contagious too. The idea infected Anurag Kashyap's mind and he decided to produce it. So we have it out now, the movie that could never been a movie if popular taste were to be taken into account; a slow paced, timed to perfection movie which seemed as out of sync with today's rushing  age as riding in steam engines. A slight nod from the Cannes jury and we have at least the art house public flocking towards it. This movie deserves both critical and popular acclaim. I am just hoping that the latter part does happen but the fact that the movie even exists is proof that no forces no matter how mighty can keep a beautiful idea out for ever, such is its resilience and longevity.

Touching upon another concept from "Inception", the concept of a shared dream. All those inside the dark confines of a cinema hall, are walking inside a shared dream, a creation of a team of human minds. The film-makers are the 'architects' of that dream, choosing to either create a world of alternate reality or one of stark realism as their wish may be, and the audience, the audience are just visitors but unlike in the movie, the all important ones. All the creations inside the dream may seem to be talking amongst themselves, but all they are doing is putting up a show just for the intruders. Like any other dreams, these shared dreams too have their categories - pleasant dreams, nightmares; ridiculous dreams, plausible dreams and all that flits through our mind when in that nether region of sleep. Not for nothing then, do film-makers also call themselves dream-makers. For in their shared dreams, we are thrilled to find patches of our own reality.