Monday, July 25, 2011

Life, Zindagi And More

Call it male bonding, love and relationships in modern times, friendship or romance, Zoya Akhtar's latest offering 'Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara' (ZNMD) is a film that has all this and more. It is a mainstream film made for the masses, but it manages to strike a chord with the viewers in its own sweet and refreshing way. These days, when the lifespan of a film is very short, it is hard to catch the attention of viewers, let alone make an impression on them. We seem to have forgotten that a normal, commercial film can be meaningful, what with the bevy of inane movies being released every week. ZNMD differs from them in many ways. It is not rollickingly funny, but it has its funny moments. It does not portray stark reality in an unflattering way, but it mirrors contemporary urban Indians very plausibly. It is not preachy, but it gets its message across in a light-hearted manner. In short, Zoya Akhtar has achieved a fine balance. Her film holds you with a firm grip and takes you along on a trip literally and metaphorically. While the literal bit takes place through scenic locales of Spain, the metaphorical journey takes you through the emotional worlds of its characters.

And what an array of wonderful characters brought to life on screen by the talented cast! 'Restraint' seems to be the keyword in making this film. Nothing is larger than life here. The situations and the characters are picked from the upper class urban reality around us. There is no crime, no abusive language, no melodrama, no cheap thrills and no vulgarity. ZNMD has shown that it is possible to make an entertaining film without these staples that usually go into the making of a masala movie. Even Katrina Kaif's appeal is used with a lot of economy, elevating her to the status of an actress than that of a mere glamour doll.

It is Katrina who gets to dispense the premier message of the film: live for the moment, live today as if there is no tomorrow. And she does it not through hollow words, but with her acts. She lives her message while portraying the persona of a free-spirited young woman. And that is why it is so easy for Hrithik Roshan to not only accept it, but to adapt himself to live according to her philosophy. But it is not Hrithik's story alone. The stories of Abhay Deol and Farhan Akhtar are interwoven nicely, making it a homogeneous, free-flowing narrative.

ZNMD has reduced the gulf between small budget, arty, serious cinema and big budget, commercial cinema considerably. Kudos to the Akhtar siblings for presenting a neat package to discerning audiences. A well-written script, good storytelling, superior performances and technical mastery have gone hand in hand to make the film a success. Of course there are some flaws, but they are not major and can be ignored. Moreover, this is not meant to be a review of the film. Umpteen reviews have appeared in the newspapers, magazines and on the net. These are just my impressions of the movie and what I liked about it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Delhi In July : A Test Of Tolerance

Delhi is a city of distinct seasons. It has a different look and a different feel in each season. Naturally, weather is a very important topic of conversation for Delhiites. Year in and year out, they say the same things to one another and feel sad or happy about the weather. Having spent a major part of my life in Delhi, I have experienced the agony and the ecstasy of the Delhi weather. I am trying to put together a collage of the various faces of Delhi in different seasons. I may do it month by month or I may club a couple of months together. First in the series is the month of July.

It is hard to say which is the cruellest month in Delhi (for there are many), but July will certainly qualify to be one of the top contenders. The high temperatures along with high humidity levels are enough to test the tolerance and patience of the toughest of tough people. If you are outdoors, the hot sun saps your energy in no time. If indoors, the sweat makes you sticky and miserable. The fan whirring overhead is of little help. But life does go on. In fact, schools reopen after summer holidays in the first week of July. Your freshly bathed little one who went to school wearing a clean uniform in the morning, returns home with damp hair, sweaty wet shirt and smelly socks. The water in the poor kid's water bottle is over. It is quite an effort to carry the heavy backpack. There is an odd umbrella or raincoat too. The kid goes back to school again the next day and comes back in a dishevelled state, and the same ordeal continues the day after the next day and the day after that. July always seems to be very long. There are 31 days and no extra holidays as no major festival or national holiday falls in this month.

To make up for this gloomy scene, nature does throw in some goodies even in this inhospitable month. When you step out in the evening, it is still hot, but at least the sun is not blazing ferociously above you. You walk a little and a pleasant whiff of corn on the cob being roasted on a makeshift fire by the streetside greets you. If you care for one, the seller dabs it with fresh lemon and tangy spices and hands it over to you. Roasted corn on the cob tastes best on a rainy day when it has just stopped raining and the poor seller is struggling to keep the roadside fire going. Pay him more than he asks for and the smile on his face will make the whole experience worth a lot more.

Elsewhere in the market, luscious plums have arrived. The dark red or blackish red fruit is sometimes covered with a dusty white coating. Bring home some plums, wash them and bite into their soft flesh. If you are lucky, you may chance upon a deliciously sweet fruit. But you are equally likely to find a tart one. Sweet or tart, plums are a treat, especially because they are seasonal and it is hard to find them at other times of the year.

Central Delhi, or more specifically, the area around India Gate has a large number of jamun trees lining its sidewalks. Come July, the sidewalks turn purple as they get covered with jamuns that fall off the trees. These trees were planted at the time of the planning and building of Central Delhi. So they are old and yield a lot of fruit. The trees are leased to contractors who manage their produce. Urchins who are spending a quiet afternoon under the trees feast on whatever they can get out of the fallen jamuns. Another attraction for them is to see if they can jump into the Boat Club lake for a cool dip on a hot and muggy afternoon.

The swim in the Boat Club waters provides temporary relief. It is still very hot although the dust storms that are so characteristic of the Delhi summer have stopped. But the rain Gods are not yet smiling on the capital. Some days dawn bright and clear with absolutely no trace of a cloud. Newspapers and television screens tell you that it is raining cats and dogs in Mumbai and you long to go there. But you are in Delhi, where the afternoon is frighteningly still. On some days, the same stillness envelopes Delhi through the evening and the night. But on some rare days, the city gets drenched with a sudden evening shower and the setting sun appears again on the skyline. That is precisely the time to get out of the house and enjoy the best Delhi can offer under given circumstances.