Wednesday, March 24, 2010

banno at wordpress

I'm moving to wordpress. I'll miss blogger, especially the fab blogroll feature. But my blog has been virtually impossible to open on Firefox and Safari. Quite, quite fed up.

Anyway, I'll be here. http://batulm.wordpress.com/

Hope you'll follow me there. It's going to take a while to build up my blogroll again. Cutting and pasting from blogger as and when it opens for a few seconds.

So do leave your urls, on the comments at wordpress, will just make my life a bit easier.

Jitters before I hit 'publish'.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

platform no. nine and three-quarters

No, it's nothing to do with Harry Potter. But Amit Dutta's film 'Aadmi ki Aurat aur Anya Kahaniyan'. Please go read at Upperstall.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A lazy boy film

"275 per ticket, Madam", he said.

I gaped at him.

"Recliner seats, Madam", he said sympathetically.

"Can't you give me normal seats?" I gasped.

 "No, only recliner seats, Madam."

I rushed into the theatre, determined not to waste a minute's worth of my 275 rupees. They were still cleaning up after the last show.

Dhanno raised her eyebrows and said, "Mom, they'll let us know when they've finished."

Once inside the candy-striped auditorium, I pushed the back of my seat.

Dhanno said, "It's not a bus seat, Mom. Just wait."

She found a secret switch in the copious folds, and the chair extended, my legs went up, my back slid back.

"More, more," I said, "that's enough."

A little boy passing by squealed, "Daddy, I want a seat like that."

I was inclined to pull out my tongue at him, but his Daddy pulled him away, reassuring him that his seat was going to be as wonderful as mine.

"Oh no," I said, as it suddenly struck me, "how will I get up for the National Anthem?"

On the dot, the screen commanded, "Stand up for the National Anthem." I scrambled out of my seat; the chair lurched with me. Dhanno meanwhile, pressed a switch, her recliner went back to a normal position, and she stood beside me, tapping her foot impatiently while I shook myself straight.

"I almost fell," I said.

She nodded coldly. I noticed for the first time that the group of actors singing the National Anthem have weird eye-lines, because they are all keyed in. The thought that each actor has been shot separately against a green background depressed me for some reason. I slid back into the chair with relief.

"Should we have some popcorn?" I said.

"No, we've just had dinner, and you always say that the popcorn gives you a headache," Dhanno admonished.

"Will you share the popcorn with me?" I said, ignoring her.

She refused to answer.

I asked the usher next to me, "Could you get me a regular popcorn?"

He said, "Only large, Madam, no regular."

I sank into the seat, defeated.

"Isn't this chair like the one Joey has in 'Friends'?" I said.


"No," Dhanno said, "That's a Lazy Boy."

"This is a Lazy Boy," I said.

"No, it isn't," Dhanno said, "for one, a Lazy Boy is much larger."

"This is nice too," I said.

I slid the back further. The ceiling was candy-striped too.

"That's hypnotic," I thought.

I woke up from a nap much later, and looked around. Peace prevailed, as people slept on their recliners. Dhanno looked more amicable in her sleep. Only the little boy behind me was awake. He was playing with the switch and had succeeded in turning his recliner into a swing. This time, I did pull out my tongue at him. His Daddy was asleep.

So yes, do go see 'Toh Baat Pakki' if you can book yourself into a recliner chair. If you own a Lazy Boy, then stay home and watch TV instead.  Even if you don't have a Lazy Boy, stay home and watch TV instead.

There's enough bad acting, screenplays, camera work, music on the small screen to sedate you, you don't need to go to the theatre for that.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

comfort films

If you are stuck in a hotel room all by yourself, even if it is a very nice hotel room,

and you've made those calls to your family that you've tried desperately to stretch for over 30 minutes, because you so want to be home,

and your family is going all, "why don't you relax, and take that holiday from home and us that you are always talking about?",

then the best thing you can do to cheer yourself up is watch 'Jaani Dushman' (1979).

It's full of the most gorgeous women, Neetu Singh, Rekha, Yogeeta Bali, Sarika, Reena Roy, Bindiya Goswami,  Jayshree T, Aruna Irani and a few others, all a reassuring size 14 and above, dressed in tight blouses, big bare midriffs, and tight knee length triangular skirts, and  angular eyebrows (yes, it was that time). Every so often they turn up in full bridal regalia.




The men are all tall and handsome, Sunil Dutt, Shatrughan Sinha, Jeetendra, and they dress in matching trousers and jackets, with patchwork on them, and big belts on their waists. Shatrughan Sinha is delightfully, unrepentantly evil.

There are several brides, several songs, and several deaths. There is a lot of honour going around, and friendship, and brother-sister love that always ends in tears. The story goes around in a loop. Love scene, fight scene, death scene, comedy scene, love scene, and so on. The comedy scene is Jagdeep and Jayshree T trying to make out, and being disturbed by a rival lover, Paintal. The love scene is Sunil Dutt and Reena Roy trying to make out and being disturbed by a rival lover, Shatrughan Sinha. The sweet scene is Jeetendra and Neetu Singh trying to make out, and everything being hunky-dory, signifying an early death for both of them. The dramatic scene is Sanjeev Kumar, the righteous Thakur being horrified by his nasty son, Shatrughan Sinha and the mother, Indrani Mukherjee crying for her husband's forgiveness for their son. The sad scene is a bride being sent off in her palanquin by her tearful brother. The horror scene is an evil spirit attacking the bridal palanquin and killing the bride. The scenes play in a loop through the film, with insignificant changes in them. The flashbacks have the characters remembering similar scenes, as of course nothing else does happen in their lives but what's on the loop.

It also has Vinod Mehra as a mad man wearing plants sticking to rags, which are then torn aside to reveal a very, very tight police uniform. And Premnath who plays a fat Bumm-Bumm-Bhole sadhu in a ankle-length orange robe with side slits. It's not clear until the end whether or not he is nurturing the evil spirit in the cave underneath his temple.

The evil spirit wears a gorilla suit rented from Maganlal Dresswala in Girgaum Chowpatty (I presume). I'm not sure whether they had the Juhu branch back then. The suit probably still hangs around the godowns and I wonder if the evil spirit lurks in there. The evil spirit is of a hurt bridegroom whose bride sneaked out on their wedding night to meet her lover. When the possessed man dies, the evil spirit moves to another body. The gorilla suit remains the same.  

It's all very delicious. And it goes on forever.  And it feels like you have gone back home for a while.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

bravado

After hearing that Salman Khan was blasting all those critics who blasted 'Veer', Teja is seriously waiting for him to react to my review of 'Veer' in Tehelka.

He's been going to the gym lately, and would love a fight. But Salman Khan is


So, no, I rather he stayed far away from Teja.


In my defense, I did end my review with a line about his fabulous screen presence, and stardom. Not my fault it was edited out.

Dhanno refuses to be implicated in any of this.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

boys will be boys

The policeman said: "Wherever the media reaches, there is trouble. The backward places where there is no media, people are poor, they are uneducated, they don't know what is happening around them, they are happy. Educated people cause all the trouble."

He forgot to say, "trouble for us, for the administration", but I wasn't going to correct him, as I was sitting in the police station, charged by local Congress goons for tarnishing the image of Dharavi. I had insisted on coming in the police van, much to the embarrassment of the two police officers summoned by the goons on 60 ft Road.

"No, no, madam, come in your own car."

"No, no,' I said, 'what if I run away? These people (the goons) don't trust me."

"But we trust you, madam."

I jumped into the police jeep anyway, enjoying their discomfiture.

At the police station, the goons kept marching in, until 2 went up to 25. They went on about media people exposing the nakedness of poor people in front of foreigners. I tried to tell them our program was on the industry in Dharavi, but they were insistent that we were shooting gutters.

The cameraman showed them the footage on the tape in the camera. They were impatient and wanted it fast-forwarded. The camera attendant explained that would damage the head of the camera. For 20 minutes, they peered into the viewfinder, looking for incriminating evidence. When they could not find it, one of them said, "What is the meaning of taking so many shots of the road, for so much time?" I said, "I must give you some film editing lessons then."

Offended, they began to rant about a recent documentary appearing on National Geographic that has some shots of children shitting on the roads, and a local activist's interview. It was hard to understand whether they were angrier about the crap or the activist. They all wanted to show him his place.

The angriest one said, "They are showing Dharavi as it was 40 years ago."

Since the said documentary was made a few months ago, at the most a year or so ago, I did not comprehend how it represented a Dharavi from a bygone past. Or what it had to do with our crew. But this was hardly about logic, was it?

Two policemen meanwhile diligently pored through a fat manual, wondering what they could charge me with. The other police staff looked quite fed up. They were all keen to go to lunch.

A little man in white shirt and white trousers showed up. I smiled at him in relief, because he had worked with us on the Secret Millionaire show. Turns out that he is the master brain behind this 'issue'. He has decided that all foreign traffic and all film shoots in Dharavi will be routed through him. So he refused to acknowledge me at first, then tried to bring me around to his point of view.

A couple of his goons came upfront and asked my white producer to dole out 5000/- to each of the goons for the trouble they had taken in creating this ruckus. Luck was on our side, because in fact, we were through with almost all our shoot, except a few general shots. So we could afford not to get agitated. Unable to understand this, they began instigating the policemen to check the back of our car, check all our equipment, check the passports and visas of the foreigners. "Who knows what they are doing here?" one said.

A police official shooed away the goons irritably, "Get out of my office. This is not some criminal or murder case, that you are surrounding her." He grumbled about how these people walked in and out of the station, as if it was their father's kingdom.

The police decided to fine the crew 5000/- on the charge of our not informing the local police station about the shoot. An officer said apologetically, "This is only a deposit, madam. You can go to the court on Monday morning with the receipt. The judge will charge you 2-300 rupees and give you the rest back. It's a minor offense."

The little man called my colleague later to say, "We have all these boys in the party. We have to take care of them. You should help with funds."

The next day, he called me twice, to ascertain where and what we were shooting. "Are you in Dharavi,' he asked, 'I saw your car there." I said, "Am I meant to report to you every morning?" "No, no,' he said, 'just let me know where you are. Then my boys won't trouble you. I had to take them all out last night, to cool them down. We'll talk over the charges later."

I wondered if the boys would not be better employed making more public toilets in Dharavi, rather than worrying about photographs of children shitting. But apparently, the image of Dharavi will remain intact if the little man and his party boys get a commission from the film production budget.

I said to him, "You've done more to spoil the image of Dharavi with your goonda-gardi, than anything we could do with our camera."

He said, "Oh, boys will be boys. We have to employ these low-level types in the party."

God save Dharavi, God save the nation from the party boys.

I must say this for the Mumbai police. There were 7 men in the crew and me. Not once did they question my authority as a woman in representing these 7 men. I don't think that would have happened in many other states, in the country.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

the slumdog children of mumbai


This is a programme that I think I am proudest to have worked on, in all these years. Simply because it was not only journalism at its best and most sensitive, but because the director Nick Read and the production company True Vision are committed to the ethics of working with children and helping them to improve their lives. And on a lesser note, because we shot in the monsoons in the most excruciatingly difficult circumstances.

It is not always pleasant to work in the slums, or on the streets. More than the physical hardships, you are always being quizzed about selling India's poverty. You have your own traumas about the difference between your own life and that of the people you are working with.

When you have lived for any length of time in Mumbai, you stop "seeing" the life on the street. There is so much of it that it can be overwhelming, and you ignore it to get on with your own life.

But while working on this programme, I felt that it is important to give a voice to the people who are usually invisible. I stopped feeling ashamed of my work, and saw that it could be an opportunity to help at least a few children.

The Channel 4 site has an article on street kids, my very limited experience with the children. Please read it here.

The Slumdog Children of Mumbai

Edited to add. The film received a tremendous response with hundreds of emails, comments and enquiries to help the children in the film and others like them. True Vision has built a site dedicated to these children with links to some of the NGOs working for the children, and also ways to help the children directly. Within 48 hours, the Trust Fund for the children has already collected over 8000 GBP.

The link to the site is here Slumdogchildren.org

The biggest challenge is not going to be money, but motivating the children esp. the boys to go to school or vocational training. Any suggestions are welcome.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

It's one of those days

When the doctor says there is nothing wrong with your insides.

When an old man says you remind me of my daughter, may you always be happy and do well.

When Mr. Amitabh Bachchan thanks me in a letter to the editor in Tehelka, for my review of 'Paa'.

When we log in to book a train ticket for Teja for the same day and there are several seats vacant on the train he wants.

When Penguin delivers my complimentary copy of the anthology 'First Proof 5' which has my short story 'Your Room' on page 122.

When it takes only an hour to get home rather than an hour and a half.

When Karmickids gives me the superior scribbler award.

When someone gifts us a pack of dark Toblerones.

When I can spend the evening watching the end of 'Dil Deke Dekho' for a few more laughs before I sleep.

When someone quotes his guru to me and says, "Don't renounce what you have, renounce what you don't have" and that gives me a new way to think about my name, which means 'someone who has the potential to renounce everything'.


When it seems to me that it may not be a bad idea to blow the trumpet for a while, even if it means the ones in the vicinity will shut their ears.



Edited to add: Here's the link to Mr. Bachchan's email on the 'Bouquets and Brickbats' page of Tehelka. Scroll down to a box Appraisal.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

why aren't we in goa?


Teja fiddles with his camera.

He says: "I don't like palaces and forts. Unless I'm studying them for some particular reason."

Dhanno says: "We should go to Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Jaipur, Ajmer. I mean, we should really see the place."

I say: "It's only 15 minutes since we landed here, people. Why did you say yes to Rajasthan? I knew we should have gone to Goa."

Dhanno drools: "Hmm. Prawn curry rice. Pancakes in the morning. Cinnamon apple pie at night."

Teja says unconvincingly: "Oh, I'm OK. This will be fun, too."

Dhanno grumbles: "Yeah. But why are we staying in Udaipur for 3 days?"

I look at the Lonely Planet guide yet again to find out why. I begin to read aloud from it.

Dhanno flops on her bed, and says: "This is like sleeping in a hammock. I'm sinking."



Teja wears his reading glasses, just because I am wearing mine.



Dhanno says: "Both of you act like they are new toys."

I say: "I like the room. It has the same curtains as our bedroom."

Teja laughs: "We should have stayed at home then."