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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Crazy for Cricket

Last night's India-Australia ODI at Bangalore was washed out, but what cannot be easily washed away is India's zeal for the game of cricket. Defeats may lower the spirits, but another high is just a victory away. Now again it is at a peak following the Twenty20 win. Here's a SET Max - the cricket and movies channel - ad featuring Kapil Dev and quite an opponent of a bowler for a kid. This also showcases the craze that cricket is in India.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Tehelka reincarnated: A review

It was the dawn of the new millennium, and a website added another word (though presently much maligned) to the Indian public's vocabulary, sting operation. Then came (though not entirely unexpected) the witch hunt. Tehelka managed to put the pieces back together and came up with a tabloid-sized weekly. Then there was "a rumour doing the rounds that the magazine is dying." Whether it was because of the truth behind the rumour or the limitations of the existing format, Tehelka has attempted yet another phoenix act, this time as a magazine.

I was going somewhere in an autorickshaw, when I noticed a little girl at a traffic light trying to sell a magazine with the Tehelka masthead, but the size looked different. Before I could get a closer look, the lights turned green. Then came a mail from Shivam announcing the transition. I picked up a copy in Shillong (where I had gone for a little break) and on my return to Delhi asked my newspaper vendor to deliver a copy on my doorstep every week. Though for a official subscription I would have paid only Rs 200 a year, then the copies would've arrived late - a compromise I'm not willing to make. Even though it might be the end of the next week that I pick up the copy to read.

One thing is for sure with the new Tehelka - it is by far the best designed of all of the mainstream weekly newsmagazines. The blue-grey theme looks sophisticated. Liberties have been taken regarding the layout and there's considerable white space play like I have seen in some of the newspaper supplements published from London (I read them at the British Library in Bhopal). Even Frontline made an attempt towards this direction (but the magazine somehow fails to sustain my interest).

And page one is not the usual contents and the printline, but 'In Cold Blood' - excerpts from an in-the-face interview. I first thought that some pages were missing.

Flip through a few pages and there are some innovations. One is 'Ask?' and the experts will answer. There have been similar initiatives in the newspapers, but I didn't notice one in a newsmagazine. Though there are the mandatory (and sleazy) agony aunt/uncle columns in the other magazines.

The next is what I liked the best - 'Whatever Happened To...' - which traces the present status of stories which had once hogged the headlines. Stories like the Purulia Arms Drop, Kashmir Sex Scandal, Imrana... a good attempt at recalling important happenings which a so easy to forget where everything is breaking news.

Other pages do not reveal much of a departure from the Tehelka that I've known since the last three-and-a-half years. The necessary eye-candy corner is there towards the end (one of the reasons why I read magazines from rear-to-front).

Though I had expected a revival in the new format, I was a little disappointed (but just). Had expected a more vibrant Tehelka. But the chilli has given way to the crow. Even the printing is a bit gloomy like Ram Gopal Varma's frames.

The good thing is that the new size makes it handier to read and the price at Rs 10 a copy is far lesser than the other weeklies of the genre. Though I wouldn't like Tehelka to come up with a stupid sex survey issue, I want it to be able to turn a casual reader to a concerned reader, who wouldn't just flip through stories which deserve to be read.

The space given to the news of the week is limited to just a page. Atleast two pages would do a little justice to someone who has been away for the madness of 'breaking news' or someone who wants to know which amongst the hundreds of 'breaking stories' are actually worth the airtime (And the ones which remained unbroken). Excuse my peevishness towards today's television news, I just cannot help it.

Tehelka has also launched a Hindi website - - which promises to raise the bar of Hindi journalism. Hope it does and would some at least promise to do the same to our 24-hours news channels.

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Monday, September 24, 2007


Watta match! It did live up to the tag of an Indo-Pak encounter. And India winning it made it even better. It was a thriller with all the twists and turns. And at last when the ball went sky high, millions of throats would've developed lumps on both sides of the LOC and only on one side were there shouts of exhilaration that followed. It was a match which will take this quickie form of cricket ahead.

Two teams bereft of some of the big names, ostensibly rested from a more youthful version of the game. Two teams who couldn't even make it beyond the first round of the 50-overs version of the World Cup went on to battle for the first ever Twenty20 World Cup. But then those teams were a little different from the 22 at the Wanderers.

The BCCI had initially phoo-phooed the idea of Twenty20 only to reluctantly embrace it. The launch of the Indian Cricket League opened the eyes of the custodians of the game of cricket in India to launch their own version of a domestic T20 league. Now with the success of the Indian team at the World Cup the BCCI is attempting to wipe off the egg on its face (it is by now quite used to it) with currency notes worth approximately rupees nine crore (that's what Ravi Shastri announced as reward for Team India and Yuvraj Singh on behalf of the BCCI).

Cricket it is said is a game of uncertainties and even an inept administration cannot always come in the way of a spirited team. Though there will be many clamouring to take the credit, it should always go to where it is due - the team.

And India also keeps it all win record against the arch rivals in both forms of World Cup cricket.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

It Doesn't Get Bigger than This

India versus Pakistan. World Cup Finals. What more can you ask for? Well, India to win in that encounter.

Prior to the ongoing Twenty20 World Cup at South Africa, I (and also millions of others like me) hadn't watched a single T20 matche. And when they did, I would say they were hooked. The longer versions of the game might have more grace, but this format of the sport isn't about gracefulness, it's just full throttle ahead. And everyone seems to enjoying the exhilarating pace.

Two teams who ingloriously exited in the very first round of the ODI World Cup early this year meeting in the finals of the World Championship of the new format of the game is good for the game. Because it is the Subcontinent which helps sustain interest in the game in all its formats and it is here where the money flows from. And the manner Yuvraj Singh is hitting the ball, the revenues have the potential of going higher than his sixers.

It was the success of the first World Cup (the Prudential Cup) in 1975 which brought One-Day cricket into the limelight and following South Africa T20 is here to stay. Just hope that in the future they don't narrow it down to the five-overs-a-side matches that we played in our locality.

And it feels good to see the Aussies humbled. This also is good for the game.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Indian Idol 3 - A City Turns Loony

The assembly elections in the state are quite a few months away, but from the look of the narrow and winding roads of Shillong it seems that canvassing is on in full swing. And all the parties are rooting for the same candidate.

On entering the city a huge hoarding sponsored by the state Youth Congress Chief asks you to vote. Further down into the city, the BJP has also put up banners appealing you to vote for the very same contestant - Amit Paul.

Many television viewers are by now quite familiar with the name. Amit Paul is the Shillong lad who has made it to the final two in one of the numerous TV musical talent shows - called Indian Idol. And for the hill state of Meghalaya and its sleepy cosmopolitan capital Shillong it seems to be the best thing to happen since January 21, 1972 - when the state of Meghalaya was carved out of Assam.

For a city with its soul soaked in music the zeal expressed in support of a local lad coming to the verge of getting a ticket to the 'big league' might not seem surprising. But the feverish excitement over a TV show is something that someone like me finds tough to comprehend.

People from other cities from where boys and girls have been contenders for the big promises of the talent shows might have been witness to similar phenomenon. I also had, last year, when Debojit Saha from south Assam had gone to the SaReGaMaPa contest on Zee TV (he was the eventual winner but not necessarily not the most talented of the lot) and I happened to be on a visit to that part of the country.

Amit Paul is already an icon in Shillong. Almost everyone is talking about him all the time. From the barber to the taxi driver, the point of discussion is Amit. Giant screens have been put up all over the city so that people can watch 'their boy' in action. MLAs and MDCs (Member of District Council) are falling over one another to sponsor free PCOs from where the public can punch in their votes for Amit.

Rallies in support of Amit are a daily affair and the crowd at the one when Amit came visiting home is said to be the largest that the city had ever witnessed. The last time Shillong saw people turning out on the roads voluntarily in huge numbers was when the body of Kargil martyr Captain K Clifford Nongrum was brought home.

Amit t-shirts line shop windows and his posters are best sellers (though some organisations have urged them to be distributed for free). Wherever you look in the city you cannot possibly miss one face with a slight stubble looking at you from all directions.

The swanky touch-screen mobile phones are no longer the latest show-off here, it is the number of votes that one has cast for Amit. An elderly gentleman who occupied the seat next to me in a local taxi (taxis in Shillong usually ply on a sharing basis) said that he voted 500 times. Others have reportedly sent over a thousand votes for their home-bred contestant. And the voting continues throughout the night.

To have a first-hand look I walked through the semi-deserted streets to one of the free PCOs at around midnight to discover a huge crowd there. People of all ages, pre-pubescent girls and elderly grandmothers all queuing up in a pleasant September night to vote for Amit. Occasionally some slogan shouting in support of Amit breaks the silence of the night.

For a city which is used to shutters downing a couple of hours after dusk (the sun sets early in the east) these energetic midnight ventures by the young and the old is indeed welcome.

What else is also welcome is that in a communally divided and sensitive society like Shillong's the success of Amit Paul has brought about an unprecedented sense of togetherness.

Amit Paul is Bengali, his family owns a renowned clothing outlet in the centre of the city - Shankar Brastalaya - and at the forefront of the campaign in support of Amit are the Khasis (both communities - Khasis and Bengalis - over the last few decades haven't shared the best of relations). Now both, along with the numerous other communities who inhabit Shillong are making a collective effort towards realising the recently realised dream of a city-bred Indian Idol.

But then there is also a dark side to this tale. Amit's competitor for the title of Indian Idol is Prashant Tamang, hailing from Darjeeling, and sceptics believe that Shillong's Nepali community (a sizeable one) is voting for Prashant, while according to them the loyalties of of all the people of Shillong should be with the city and not the tongue one speaks in.

In case Prashant betters Amit in the vote count there are apprehensions of disturbances in Shillong, which has fortunately been quite peaceful (communally) for the last few years.

To add to all the confusion are rumors of free SMS services being provided by mobile operators leading to many people sending as many SMSes as possible. Apart from the freebie seekers there are many deep pockets abound distributing free pre-paid cards to anyone willing to punch in the SMSes in Amit's favour.

Amidst all the brouhaha it is obvious that there would be a few who can see though this maniacal euphoria (thankfully there are). These few realise that the producers of the show are merely triggering the upheaval of regional emotions and filling their (and the mobile operators') coffers and are also aware of the real value of such talent hunts at a time where every channel boasts of one, if not more such shows. They also try to recall the previous winners of such shows and the oblivion where most of them have disappeared into and also the process of multiple public voting which turns a so-called democratic exercise into a farce.

A local columnist Patricia Mukhim is believed to have ignited the fire for Amit through her columns in the local newspapers. Then socio-cultural organisations took over and even the government couldn't resist from staying behind. The Meghalaya government has declared Amit Paul the 'Brand Ambassador of the State of Meghalaya for Peace, Communal Harmony and Excellence' (see the adjacent image of a copy of the letter from the Chief Secretary) and even the Governor signed his fan book.

With many of Shillong's lasses already publicly expressing the desire to marry him, Amit might just face another problem of plenty. A Sikkim-based businessman has announced a Rs One crore funding for voting in favour of Prashant. There are also rumors of the government employees of Sikkim contributing a day's salary to the kitty for Prashant.

May the best man win, but they seldom do in the farce that these talent hunts are.

Special addition: [September 19, 2007] In fear of excommunication by fellow Shillongites and the possibility of being denied entry into the city in the future for daring to question the concept of TV talent shows at a time when Amit Paul has made it to the finals of Indian Idol 3, here's an attempt towards pacifying the die-hard fans of Shillong's latest singing sensation - some childhood and teenage photographs of him (Don't ask me whether I voted for him or not).

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Teenaged Amit

Baby Amit with his grandmother

Boy Amit with his sister

Youthful Amit singing at a Shillong hotel

Amit's childhood photos courtesy: Eastern Panorama

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Taking a Break

The news is that I have quit my present job (don't say not again!) and am taking (a well deserved) break at home in Shillong. The national news media didn't inform me, but this part of the country is displeased with the plenty that the rain gods had to offer. Large parts of Assam is underwater and even Shillong (a hill station) witnessed flodding.

Landslides accompany the rains and take away the life and property down the hill. The Guwahati-Shillong highway (National Highway 40) is in a mess. The skies are perpetually overcast but the mood is upbeat. Because of a TV talent show called Indian Idol, now in its third season. Interesting experiences here, will post the details later.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Caught in a Time Warp?

Pehle tha Rock n Roll
Phir aaya Twist
Phir aaya Disco
Ab Break Dance, Break Dance...

(First there was Rock n Roll
Then came Twist
Then came Disco
Now Break Dance, Break Dance...)

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Now try to redo this 1986 Bappi Lahiri number from the film Main Balwan, starring (who else but) Mithun Chakraborty, in today's scenario. I couldn't. Felt paused.

The other day, I went to a friend's engagement and wore a pair of trousers that my brother gifted me a decade back, and I didn't feel out of place.

I am not aware of any new dance form which has swayed our youth en masse since the days of Break Dance. There hasn't been any great musical revolution in between. Even the clothes that I wear (talking about us men) haven't changed much. My niece doesn't smile seeing the clothes that I wore in college, but she does giggle noticing what my elder brother wore as a child in black and white photographs.

Somewhere in 1990s, some things seem to have come to a standstill, whereas in others we are moving so fast that the past looks so sluggish. Internet and mobile have changed the way we live, communicate and earn a livelihood.

Every decade since World War II can be identified by cultural phenomenon (in music, dress and dance) which shaped the lives then, but that doesn't hold true for the last decade and a half. Perhaps there have been too many changes taking place simultaneously; and one couldn't have been all encompassing.

In India the only difference might have been in our movies. It took a maverick called Ram Gopal Varma to make Satya, a watershed in Hindi cinema, which was down in the dumps with mush, rehash, formula and syncronised PT dances, to infuse some life into that medium of expression. In music, we have AR Rehman and his dubbed Roja that had us all mesmerised with the new sound.

I do not follow trends, because there isn't anything worthwhile to follow. There was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, but then he died early, though his music still lives, in my digital audio player. There were some sparks of brilliance, almost at the same time: Junoon from across the border with Azadi, Silk Route's Boondien and Luck Ali with Sunoh. But none could rekindle the magic again. Lucky Ali sounded so monotonous thereafter.

And I also need to know, what after Break Dance?

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Better than RGV Ki Aag?

I was afraid, very afraid. Given the abusive reviews that friends and colleagues who had watched the movie, I couldn't muster up enough courage venture into the theatre to watch Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag. I was waiting for the movie to release. After the awesome tribute to Godfather in Sarkar, I believed that Ramu would go a few steps higher with his remake of the 1975 blockbuster. But then this tribute to Sholay won't feature well on RGV's CV.

Disillusioned, I resorted to watching another remake of the Sholay (there have been many) on DVD. This one didn't have any naming woes and was titled, quite appropriately, Duplicate Sholay. There are duplicates all around and as a bonus you also have duplicates of Mithun Chakraborty, Sanjay Dutt and Sunny Deol. There are some other twists and turns which were absent in the asli Sholay. Needless to say, that you needn't watch this movie (I watched it in fast forward). But for those who had the misfortune of having to sit through RGV Ki Aag, please watch and let me know of the comparative rating. Maybe the producers of Duplicate Sholay might just re-release the movie and earn better returns than Ramu did.

For the impatient souls, here are some select shots from Kanti Shah's Duplicate Sholay (2002):

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Janmashtami - The Axe Effect

Lord Krishna didn't need Axe for his effect. But wannabe Gopals need the aid of external agents in their endeavours. From deo to dating via SMS. Here are some ads on the occassion of Janmashtami.

An Axe deodorant ad wishing Happy Janmashtami. An Axy take on the Dahi-Handi ceremony.

Here are a couple of wannabe Kishan ads of Indiatimes 8888's (now 58888) Dating-Sutra which invited the ire of some Hindu organisations. Topless gopis accompanying a Moto Razr wielding Emran Hashmi lookalike does have a high potential of offending sentiments.

Krishna (avatar of Vishnu) is perhaps the most loveable in the pantheon of Hindu gods. And this allows a lot of liberties to be taken in the Lord's name. Though the Lord wouldn't have minded most of them, some of his followers do.

Dating-Sutra, SMS DAT to 8888. You'll never be without a date.

Agency: Capital

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Literary Chaiwallah

Before you get any ideas about me turning an author, let me clarify that the chaiwallah in question isn't the faux tea vendor who maintains this blog but a genuine one who has penned 18 books over 30 years. Watch the story of Laxman Rao aka Lekhakji.

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