Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Delhi In December: Behind The Veil Of Fog

It is December. The sun rises reluctantly from behind the fog. The leafless trees are standing still, their bare branches looking mysterious in the hazy morning landscape. On some days, the fog is so thick that when you look out of your window in the early morning, you don't see anything except layers and layers of it, giving the view a misty, dreamy look. The best place to be at this hour is under your cosy quilt, but very few can actually afford to do so. Children have to be forced out of their beds to be in time for their school. One can see hordes of them - bundled up in warm clothes- waiting at bus stops all over the city. You wonder how hard it will be for them to hold a pen with their numb fingers and actually write something in their notebooks. But kids in Delhi are made of sterner stuff. They manage to tackle the extremes in their city's weather with a nonchalance that often eludes their elders.

Around mid-morning, when the sun is finally out and shining-albeit weakly-it is a beautiful day. Dahlias and chrysanthemums are in bloom, their umpteen shades a feast for the eyes. Take a walk in a park, go to the market or just soak in the sun anywhere, it feels great to be outdoors. Those who are fortunate to have a patch of land outside their houses, make good use of it by growing seasonal vegetables in it. It is very refreshing to see green leaves of coriander, mustard, spinach and methi, huge heads of cauliflower and cabbage along with the leaves of carrots and radishes that are growing underground in your neighbourhood. When a kind neighbour sends her fresh produce over, you can see how good a really 'fresh' vegetable tastes.

A visit to the Sarojini Nagar market or Dilli Haat in the late morning/early afternoon is very tempting. While the latter is mostly frequented by lovers of handloom fabrics and handicrafts, the former is popular with the masses. Clothes, footwear, luggage, utensils, household items, gifts, groceries, vegetables, can find almost anything in the lanes and bylanes of this sprawling market. It is flooded with Christmas merchandise at this time of the year. Most of the goods available here are generally easy on one's pocket, making it a favoured destination of shoppers in South Delhi. The soft drink and ice-cream stalls are forgotten. Instead tiny shops selling tea are doing brisk business. And the spicy aloo-tikki has people queueing up outside a small shop that churns out the wonderful stuff. It is just right when one wants to take a break from the tough bargaining that is a part of shopping at the Sarojini Nagar market.

The sun begins to lose its warmth around dusk. It becomes dark quite early, and suddenly too. Time to get indoors and put on one's socks, mittens, mufflers, scarves, caps, sweaters...whatever. The concrete structures that our houses are, turn into ice-boxes in the absence of heating. Icy water gushes out of the taps, especially at night and early in the mornings. People who cannot tolerate this, find winters to be a difficult time. But, for those who are fine with it, this is the right season to be in Delhi. Barring a few very cold and sunless days, the daytime is usually pleasant.

Travelling in and out of Delhi by train or air? Now that's a different story. Seasoned travellers avoid Delhi during winter months if they can. But those who must visit Delhi or transit through it, find themselves completely at the mercy of the fog that seems to have its own mind. There are indefinite delays, flight diversions, missed connections, chaos at the airport and railway stations resulting in a lot of discomfort and uncertainty. This is one instance where nature makes us realize that it is in command, and we just have to bow to its wishes.

I have filled this post with some wonderful images of blossoms captured by Prateek a few years ago at a chrysanthemum show at the Dilli Haat. Hope these bring alive the colours of a Delhi winter on your screens and touch your hearts with their awesome beauty.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Not-So-Perfect Picture

'The Dirty Picture' (TDP) displays the usual disclaimer in the beginning about it being a work of fiction and any similarity between a character and a person living or dead being coincidental. But everybody knows that it is not just inspired by, but based largely on the life of Silk Smitha who dominated the South Indian film industry with her overt sensuality and uninhibited performances in the eighties and part of nineties. Vidya Balan brings alive the magic of the voluptuous Silk on the screen with a lot of substance--literally and metaphorically--she even put on some weight for this role.

Reshma, who is a poor village girl renamed as Silk in the industry, is bent on making it big in films, her plain looks and lack of polish notwithstanding. Similarly, Vidya the actress has left no stone unturned in her portrayal of the somewhat complex Silk, who likes to shock people with her outrageous costumes and unconventional behaviour; but is uncouth (crude language, frequent winking) and childlike when it comes to her longing for being accepted by her estranged mother. We first see her as an unattractive young woman in a half-saree and ill-fitting blouses, sporting hair that has been oiled, combed and tied tightly. Then she metamorphoses into a glamorous film star. Vidya carries all this with elan, looking comfortable in the gaudy costumes and cheap jewellery, dancing with abandon on the garish sets surrounded by unusual props.

If there is anything that does not go well with all this, it is her dancing co-star Suryakant, played by a mousy Naseeruddin Shah. Though ageing, Suryakant is supposed to be a flamboyant superstar...and Naseer hardly looks like one. An actor of his calibre has been wasted in this role. He is not only a misfit, but has been reduced to a mere caricature, throwing tantrums around the sets and having his way by terrorising everybody. In contrast, a subdued Emraan Hashmi is quite convincing in his role of a serious director who does not want to give in to popular tricks to make his film a hit. Tusshar Kapoor is tolerable, to say the least. But who impressed me the most among the men is Rajesh Sharma who plays the street smart producer Selva Ganesh. His rule book is fairly flexible and he is there to make money. And he has no qualms about it. His character has nice shades of grey that he conveys very well.

A film like this that has such a sensitive substance at its core has an additional responsibility of rising above it lest it be accused of using the subject matter to its advantage...exposure in this case. And I am not sure if the film gets a clean chit on that. Also, as a film that tells the story of a star who was famous for her item numbers, it ought to have had great music. Vishal-Shekhar's compositions do not make a mark. They are simply forgettable. Nyla, played by Anju Mahendroo as the sole representative of media is irritating. A more mature handling of her character could have helped. Silk's diatribe against the hypocrisy and double standards of society at an awards function is jarring. Even if what she had to say was true, the manner in which it was said, did not quite strike a chord. Over all, a lot more work was needed in painting the characters of most of the major players.

The bottom line is that TDP will be remembered as a Vidya Balan film because she has breathed life in the character of Silk with her exuberant performance. The rest, sadly is not-so-perfect.