Sunday, September 08, 2019


A few days ago, when I had traveled to Surathkal, my primary school art teacher requested me to paint something for an event she was organising in memory of art Guru, P P Karanth. She wanted some of her and Karanth sir's students to make paintings during the two-day workshop she was arranging for the school kids. I was immediately tempted to be in someway part of this event as it was in memory of one my most adored teachers. I have written about him in the earlier Post . Since I was unable to attend the workshop, I decided to donate a painting.

I picked, one of sir's sketches and of course, as per his teachings, recreated it in my own style. I chose to paint Venugopala - Krishna as a Shepherd with a flute in hand. Here is my process. It is often the detailing that is the most interesting but also time consuming part of a painting process. As always, I truly enjoyed this process.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Ignorance Drives Regressive Behaviour

Recently, I added a WhatsApp DP that created some conflict within my family. In the picture, I am seen sleeping, holding a book on postmodernism. Firstly, I was playing with the colour scheme that my bed cover, my T-shirt and the book cover was forming. But beyond that, it was an attempt to represent a conceptual art displaying absurdity concerning display pictures. The caption that went with that picture was a quote from the Spanish artist Francisco Goya - The sleep of reasons produces monsters. Friends who are well aware of my eccentric behaviour thought it was funny and others with a sense of humour sent me an emoji; smiling at it. Both reactions are practical and well accepted. However, my mother is not among those people.

One morning, my mother calls me and even before checking if I was in the middle of something important, decides to scream at me. She first commands me to remove the picture because she thinks that it represents death. She supports her proposal with a superstitious belief that has been religiously passed on to her by her mother - One should never take pictures of a child while he/she is sleeping. According to the mothers, a picture with closed eyes can only represent death. I immediately argued that it could also represent sleep or meditation. Then she reminded me how important a mother is in every one's life and how mothers would only wish the best for her child’s well being. I argued that as well. In this case, a mother was imposing her beliefs on her child without its consent. Well, the  funniest part of it all is that this child is 39 years old. Even at the age of 72, my mother likes to boss around. Welcome to India! 

My mother did not stop at that. She called my sister and reminded her of this superstition. Now, I had two people asking me to take this picture down. This was soon turning into an ego issue. Well, I am not painting a picture of a mother that you have perhaps seen on WhatsApp or Facebook posts. Sorry to break this news to you, but there are several narratives that are floating around in our world that are not necessarily true. Common on! you seriously thought that mothers are angles on earth? They are as much humans as we are. Therefore they are capable of making as many mistakes as anyone does. So, let’s not burden them with such unrealistic expectations. So having established that mothers are only human beings like everyone else, I would like to explore why this is a bigger issue than it seems to be and what makes my mother react in such a manner? 

As an artist, I am sometimes driven towards dark themes. I feel that human psyche could be better expressed through such concepts  Therefore, black paintings of Goya are intriguing to me. My favourite painting of his, "Witches in the air" has a fascinating theme that experts are still trying to decode. When I was 17 years old, I was attracted towards a painting that my aunt had done. It was a recreation of a famous painting called "The weeping girl". I expressed my desire to paint it. My aunt taught me this unique painting method that involved spraying colours through a toothbrush. It took me several weeks to complete that work and I was delighted by this experience of painting for the first time. I was even more happier to ge it framed and display it in our living room. I even taught this painting method to another friend of mine. Several years later, I learnt that my mother always hated it. She considered it to be evil or something that displayed negativity. Fair enough! I decided to bring it to Bangalore during one of my visits home. However, my mother did not stop at that. She influenced the thoughts of my wife with similar opinion. The painting was therefore discarded away from sight. I was extremely hurt because this was after all my first painting.

People have no idea of what a painting means to its creator. There is an emotional bond that an artist develops with his work while he is creating it. To tag these works as satanic or evil is a direct insult to the artist himself. And, when these insults are irrational and driven by superstitions that are being imposed on us from generations, it bothers even more. Because now it is an issue beyond a personal opinion. What my mother does not understand is that she is projecting the negativity within her as a response to something. Because, I do not see sorrow as negative. It is just one of the human emotions. Therefore, superstition has skewed the thinking of most Indians; which in the name of religion and traditions is being transferred from one generation to another. I wonder if Goya could ever paint his masterpieces if he had an orthodox mother inspecting his work? 

A simple and basic fact is that an artist, famous or not, needs freedom. He should be allowed to express himself. His works may not be always appreciated or accepted by everyone, but he still needs that freedom to create what he believes in. I strongly feel that many viewers lack this sensibility. Superstition cannot drive my decisions. So then what drives such a behaviour in my mother? Why does she see only death in that picture? Why does she refuse other perspectives? I do not think I can answer these questions. So, I decided to ask myself - Why do I not see death in it? Why do I not believe in such superstitions? These questions, I thought would rather help me answer the original questions.

Since the age of 21, I have lived away from home. I have been totally independent since then. I have traveled the world and read several concepts to broaden my understanding of this world. This has facilitated in developing my personality. It was when I began to travel that I saw how all the stereotypes that surround us through various mediums is nothing but a narrative that holds an opinion but never the truth. When I went on my first backpacking trip to Sri Lanka, I was told by people how dangerous it was to travel alone in an unknown country. I was asked to be extra careful in Jaffna because of the civil war that had taken place, only a few years ago. Some informed that I needed a special permission to enter that region. To be honest, I did have a slight fear on what I was getting into. I think it is that fear of the unknown that leads me to take up such adventures. But as I traveled across the entire country, including Jaffna, I realised how wrong people were about the situation there. Hence, our ignorance is our biggest enemy. Because, we lack the knowledge of something, we fear it. We consider it to be harmful or dangerous. Once you have conquered that fear through knowledge, that fear is replaced by contentment. Those who nurture their fear by promoting ignorance and denying knowledge will always see the world in that single perspective. When my mother said that it is the education that has made me turn this way, I think she too agrees with this theory. But hey! everyone should be allowed to have their own beliefs, including my mother.

I certainly do not hate my mother for this. There are things that I admire about her. I only want people to know that it is okay to disagree with your parents and voice your opinion. You do not have to like everything about them just because they gave birth to you. However, just like I would not impose my beliefs on someone else, I must be allowed to freely practice mine. But this world has condemned the free thinkers as rebels or outcasts. 

When Victor Hugo broke away from the rules of classicism and created a play with his romantic heros, it invited a lot of pushback from the defenders of classicism. Impressionists were tagged as untalented lunatics. Even today, there are people who might laugh at paintings of Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. The very reason for such an act is that we do not have a full understanding of this art form or the reasons that lead to the development of such art movements. If we dig a bit into its history, we would understand the thought process that went behind a Surrealistic art or a work of Cubism. But, most people are happy in their state of ignorance and therefore, they tend to laugh at something that they do not fully understand. I am not saying that we must appreciate these works of art but we must understand what they mean and what concepts they behold before we pass a judgement. Only then, our knowledge would allow us to appreciate the process even though we may not necessarily appreciate the work itself. In other words, we will not mindlessly laugh at Picasso’s painting but we can credit him for his thoughtfulness even if aesthetically they do not go well with our taste. 

Therefore, ignorance does drive regressive behaviour in us and only knowledge can supersede this stupidity. Whether it is those great artists or common men like us, we all suffer such criticism on a day to day basis. Most of these judgements are passed by people who do not comprehend certain things and refuse to broaden their knowledge. There are quite a few friends of mine who pass judgments without fully understanding a concept. Moreover, in today's world, on social media, we see a growing sense of insensitivity towards one another based on one's beliefs.

The Bhakts are trolling the liberals and the minorities while the latter are focusing only on the negatives of the current Government. Sensible debates have vanished. Fake news and discriminating contents from either sides are taking centre stage and affecting the minds of the citizens. Obsessed by their respective beliefs, they remain ignorant towards rational thinking. We simply do not understand that we cannot hate a person and everything he does just because his opinion differs from that of ours. I am not saying that I am perfect. In fact, only when we accept that we have flaws in us too, it would allow us to be sensible in our interactions with others; we can be rational in our approach to anything. Therefore, as Goya aptly said, when the reasons go to sleep, monsters (irrational behaviours) are produced. 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Are We Moving Towards A Common Language?

In the story “Tower of Babel”, it is said that once upon a time, everyone on earth spoke only one language. As people migrated from the east, they settled in a land called Shinar where they began to build a tower towards the heaven. God, clearly disliking this act of man, recognised the root cause of their efficiency in the common language that they shared. So, it is said that he created different languages, as a result of which they would never understand one another, and scattered them over the face of the earth. The authenticity of this narration is not in the interest of this writing but it sure does mock at the chaos, that existence of multiple languages have created and thus making one wonder if world would be a much better place to live in, if we all had a common language to share our thoughts and feelings in.
The origin of this question finds itself in a debate that I had in my French class against the need to create native lexicon in French for every new word of English origin. On one side of the coin there is a need to conserve languages and facilitate their enrichment and on the other side, there is an opportunity to drive common terminologies across the world. With a rate of globalisation that refuses to slow down, world today has almost begun to work like the Tower of Babel. Interdependency and immigration has made the need for a common language more than just a comfort. However, not everyone would agree to this.
On the contrary, a section of people would argue that a common language would pose a threat to many other languages that would subsequently become obsolete. With a language, disappears its literary works and its history. Moreover, a language is not only a means of communication but also a foundation of any culture and tradition. That argument is valid. However, we are also aware of the fact that change is inevitable.  

Cultures and traditions around the world have always been changing or rather evolving. Over the years, we have seen several old languages like Latin and Sanskrit slowly becoming limited in usage. Even English has evolved continuously since its origin and by adopting the modern day English, man has almost abandoned the works of old English. He has adapted himself to a newer and better way of expressing himself; relevant to the time he lives in. Another argument presented by the defenders of languages is that the current state ensures diversity in this world and that makes us interesting; with different perspectives on same things. 

As far as the need for diversity goes, there would always be other avenues to create them; just like there exists diversity between an American, a British and a New Zealander. Besides, a distinctive melange exists within a country that speaks a common language. So, though I myself am a polyglot who do deeply appreciates the diversity that these beautiful languages bring, I also believe in the ephemerality and evolution of things. We simply cannot deny change!
Additionally, it is clearly visible that with technological developments and influences driven by globalisation, all cultures are beginning to converge. For example, the cuisine of one region or a country has traveled beyond its borders. People around the world share a similar virtual image of themselves on Facebook, LinkedIn or other social networking sites through which they prefer to communicate in common grounds. However, with a world full of egoistic countries, it would be interesting to see which language will dominate and which all would be willing to yield. Perhaps it was the prediction of this conflict that once led to a creation of a new language all together.
In 1887, a language called Esperanto was developed in order to facilitate communication between people of different languages. This effort of constructing a new language from the scripts of various other languages has not proven to be very successful. One may argue that the mistake was probably in creating a language from scratch and every language has several words and expressions that may not exist in the other. 
But in today’s world, we can notice a different type of blend between languages. “Visage”, “Encore” and “Sans” are some of the French words that are frequently used in English language. While “Parking”, “Weekend”, “Stop” and “Pub” are some of the English words used in French language. Sanskrit or Hindi words like “Guru” and “Mantra” have also made their way into the English dictionary. Because, a linguistic would note that ever language has words that do not necessarily exist in an other language. Therefore, we are in the process of effectively blending the languages and hopefully constructing a new global language. Clearly in this case, the language that is most willing to accept foreign words and that which is increasingly open to changes in its structure would be a winner. That makes us ask ourselves - On one side as we try to bring the world closer, must we, on the other end, by translating every new word in different languages, separate it? Life would be much easier if a USB, computer, Laptop, Nano technology or a tablet is called the same elsewhere in the planet. However, it is important to understand that the problem here is not in some languages gaining prominence, but with many others loosing their functionality. Therefore, the bigger question is - Would having multiple languages serve any purpose in the future?

To retain something, one has to have a strong purpose. History teaches us that anything that has lacked a robust motive has always failed to sustain. Humans, while adapting to the times they live in, have always acclimatised to better and simpler ways of dealing with things, by gradually discarding the older methods. Therefore, the defenders of a certain language have to come up with a reasoning that is profound, or at the least relevant to the times we are living in. Nostalgia simply cannot survive as a sole reason for this retention. 
Even though there is a necessity to have a common language to work effectively with one another, a universal language for humans does not appear to be a reality until several centuries to come. World would mostly be multi-linguistic until one of the dominant languages would slowly but certainly take over. But in that process, this dominant language will have to evolve and embed all the qualities of the other languages. With a world well connected, this forecast seems highly likely. This thought might be frightening or even offensive to some at the moment, but change unwinds itself at its own pace and this would only be a reality perhaps more than a thousand years from now. We would no more be alive to react to it and the people living then would not relate to this debate at all; just like how we remain ignorant about Latin and Sanskrit.
From few basic languages to a variety of them; from a variety of them to fewer modern languages; from those few modern languages, maybe to one ideal language in a distant future. Time, therefore, seems to spin like a wheel. Consequently, maybe one day, man might after all complete the Tower of Babel.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Gully Boy - A Movie Review

It’s been a while since I have written a movie review. That is because, recently, none of the movies that I have watched have been interesting, different or interestingly different. Of course there were a few good movies like Andhadhun and Badhai Ho. However, despite being entertaining and fresh, they stop at a surface level treatment of the central subjects and characters. That is where Gully Boy stands out! On one hand, there is a raw and realistic representation of life in a slum, on the other hand, it is refreshingly stylish in treating its central theme - Hip Hop. 

**Spoiler Alert - Watch the film and then read the review.

Plot - Gully boy is a coming of age drama film about a young undergrad student named Murad. He comes out as a reserved person. His dysfunctional family and the evident class distinction that exists in our society are his two major concerns. Writing lyrics for rap songs is his escape from these miseries. When he meets a mentor in MC Sher, a rapper from his college, he is encouraged to try singing his own songs. He is thus motivated to develop his interest in the art form but most importantly, to fight the battles within himself and emerge confident and victorious. 

Story and Themes - Though not a biography, the story is inspired by those of real life rappers and their struggle. The story deals with relevant themes like Class distinction, Domestic violence, Dysfunctional family, Dignity of labour, Friendship, Love, Poverty and Struggle. However, I think the central theme of this movie is art; how art transcends everything else and opens up a new perspective towards life. 

Art - Art sets one free. It enables us to erase the differences we have created among ourselves in the name of caste, religion, race and class. One of the most important scenes in the film that subtly puts it through is when Murad (Played by Ranveer Singh) asks Sky (Played by Kalki Koechlin) - "Why are you interested in me inspite being aware of my background?" She answers - "You are an artist, aren't you? Where you come from, what you bring, doesn’t matter." That response puts forth a powerful thought that art is one of the, if not the only means to blur the barriers between people and it allows us to see each other as humans. However cliché to might sound, it is the truth and is beautifully depicted in this film. Although, it is important to note that the problem endures when one needs to go back and continue living in that world of differences. 

Class distinction and Poverty -  A classic scene that shows class distinction is the one where Murad is driving back his owner’s daughter from a night club. The difference in status between them prevents him from consoling her while she sits in the back seat, drenched in tears and depressed about something that is bothering her. In another scene, he is asked by the owner about his qualification. When he says that he is almost finishing his under-graduation, the owner warns his daughter that she needs to raise her standards from that of his level and pursue higher studies. In another scene, a bouncer at a pub shoos away Murad, a driver who is approaching to listen to the music being played inside. The director does not shy away from showing the reality. The display of poverty is raw and blunt. Despite the poverty that reigns over all the characters, they are survivors. They have learnt to deal with their situation and are dreaming to succeed in life. The scene in which a few foreign tourists visit Murad’s house in the slums is interesting as well. It indicates that poverty has now reduced itself to a level of attraction or entertainment and the poor too know how to encash on that (By demanding money for the visit). 

Dignity of Labour -  India is terrible when it comes to respecting daily labourers. Dignity labour is almost nonexistent here. The film, in various occasions,  tries to point out this flaw in our society. However, the best response is when Murad is referred to as "Naukar" (Servant) by his uncle. When his father accepts that allegation without an argument, he on the other hand responds thus - "Naukar hein kyon ki Naukri Karta hein, Mehnet Ka kaam hein, imandari ka kaam hein, kisi ka ghulam nahi hein…." (We are workers because we work, it is a labour, a work of honesty, that does not mean that we are someone's slave). 

Dysfunctional family - I think this theme is very evident through out the film. So, I would refrain myself from elaborating on it. It would be discussed further in various other sections of the review. 

Traditions and Beliefs - The film heavily mocks the traditions and beliefs that seem more important to some of the characters in the film than their freedom. Though not explicitly mentioned, many scenes show the mindset of an orthodox muslim family, that, in the name of culture, religion and traditions, tend to turn a blind eye towards the changing world and unapologetically embraces injustice. There is one scene in which Safeena tells her mother that her life is all about going to college, clinic and returning home. Her mother is shocked at this comment and asks her - "Toh Allah, aur kya karna hein tujeh?" (Oh God! what else do you want from life?). This shows how blinded one can be by their beliefs that other perspectives may seem highly irrational to them and most importantly, beyond their scope of understanding. There is another scene where Murad’s uncle tells his mother after she has left her husband - "You want to leave your husband and you expect me to help you in it?" Despite knowing all about the  abusive nature of his brother-in-law, despite the knowledge of the injustice done to his sister and the suffering that the family is enduring, he chooses to side his traditional values.  This is a sad truth in our society. It exists in every religion; in its own degree. People feel that they should give importance to the rites and rituals more than human emotions and interactions. 

Dialogues -  The dialogues in this movie deserves a special mention. They play a crucial role in taking the story forward. The beauty of these sentences are that they are subtle, but extremely powerful. They hide several layers of thought in them. Unlike being verbose and loaded with emotions, like in most Hindi films, these dialogues are concise. Here are a few that stand out - 

"Safeena ke bina mera zindagi naa... aisey ho jayenge jaise... jaise bina bachpan ke bada ho gaya jaise." (Life without Safeena would be like, having grown up without a childhood).

There is a fierce quarrel between Murad’s father and his mother where both engage in rapid exchange of sarcastic and hurting words between each other. While objecting to his second marriage, she says - 

"Doosre Biwi ko mere bistar mein lake sula diya, ye tameez hein?"  (Is it decency to bring an other woman and make her sleep on my bed?). 

He immediately defends himself with a counter attack, by asking - "Haan sula diya! Tune kya sejh sajake raki hein mere liye idar?" (Yes I have, as if you have kept my bed decorated every night). 

That line may seem very simple but hides a powerful insult. He is indirectly telling that she hasn't been sensuous or seductive enough. No doubt she is mad at that comment and asks him - 

"Tune kabi seeka hein muje kaise choona hai karke?" (Have you ever learnt how to touch me?). 

Again a one liner that paints a picture of domestic violence and abuse without being shown on screen. She goes further and asks him - 

"So, have I brought another man home? (For having been treated unfairly)."  

Another interesting conversation between Murad and Moeen  - 

Murad - "Mushkil mein paddela Hein bhai."  (I am in a difficulty Bro.) 
Moeen - "Assaan kiske liye hein?" (Who is it (Life) easy for then?)

And the best line of all - 

"Mein nahi badlta apna sapna, sachayi se mail kane ke vaste....Mein apna Sachayi Badlega,  jo mere Sapne se mail kaye." (I shall never change my dreams to match my reality. I shall change my reality, so that it matches with my dream). 

Vijay maurya who has written the dailogues of the film deserves all the credit. With his subtle but powerful one liners that enclose so many emotions within those few words, stimulates thoughts in the viewers mind. He also plays the uncle of Murad and does a fine job as a supporting cast as well. 

Screenplay and direction - 

Gully boy is undoubtedly Zoya Akhtar's best film till date. Screenplay of the film is incredible. Every scene seems to smoothly flow into the next and unfold this heart warming story. Some scenes do stand out though. 

The scene where Murad and Safeena meet for the first time is refreshingly new in Indian cinema. Without a single dialogue, a lot is conveyed about their relationship. 

Another in which Murad is listening to hip hop music in order to avoid the ‘noise’ outside when his father brings home his new bride is interesting. This scene shows the disconnect or escape he longs for from the reality and his chosen means to achieve it. 

The film is mostly shot in real locations as opposed to sets - The trains and play ground where they hangout, bus stand and a bridge in the slum where the two love birds often meet etc.

Undoubtedly the finest scene, not just in this film, but in world cinema would be the one in the car. Murad drives his wealthy owner’s daughter back from a night club. She is depressed about some unknown reason and is in tears. Murad feels empathetic towards her as a human but refrains from consoling her because of the class distinction that mentally separates them, despite their physical closeness. It is there that he writes the lyrics of his song Doori. Doori is one of my favourite tracks in the film. 

The song is very beautifully shot with montage of commoners and labourers blankly looking at the camera. This is typical Zoya Akhtar style that one can remember seeing in her movie "Luck by chance" and  the one she co-wrote the story for - "Talaash". 

This scene reminded me of an article I had written a while back about a dead body of an unknown man lying on a street and how people who were indifferent or ignorant towards him during his lifetime, suddenly take notice of his death, that in some way, seems to obstruct their daily routine. I have often introduced this theme in my writing. In my short story called Whisperers, a taxi driver talks about how he overhears the conversations of his passengers and that in some way makes him feel connected to them. However, they on the other hand,  do not take notice of him and ride along as though he does not even exist. In the movie, I simply loved the scene and the treatment of this subject. 

There is another interesting scene between Safeena's parents and the parents of the boy whose marriage proposal is being discussed. They inform them that their son is expecting a promotion and a transfer soon. Hence, they want to get him married because they feel that it would be difficult for him to live in a new city all by himself. For someone with a similar mindset, the scene would not seem funny but those who can catch the irony in this sentence can't stop laughing. 

Another brilliant scene is the one with Murad leaving home along with his mother and brother. During his confrontation with his father in an earlier scene, his grandmother had supported her son (Murad's father). But when she sees them pack their bags and leave, she is dumbstruck. She knows that the Raziya had been the working force in the house. It would be difficult, if not impossible to run the house without her. It is then that one feels how important she was in that family. Such was their dependency on her. The old lady looks at them walk away with a mixed feeling of uncertainty and fear. She simply says - "Ab mere kya hoyega?" (Now what about me?) Murad replies - "You have educated your son properly, haven’t you?" Indicating that since you claim that your son has been raised well, you would be taken care of, accordingly. That response by Murad is filled with bitterness and sarcasm towards the grandmother who changed her sides almost immediately. Layers and layers of emotion hides within this scene where one could see a woman turn against a woman, a blind love of a mother towards her son, despite his wrong actions. 

Moreover, there are many scenes in this film that necessarily do not take the story forward and could be easily omitted, but they are the ones which stand out and make you think about the central themes of the movie. They make the story telling much more interesting. For example, there is a scene where the grandmother enquires about the party Murad had driven his owners to, the previous night. She is curious to know how the rich live, will they sleep all morning if they partied all night? But beyond that it is also seen that she is more comfortable asking these to her grandson rather than her son who was driving the car before.

There is another one with Murad waiting for his owners outside a pub and the drivers are discussing Dhal making. I found that scene hilarious and very natural. The scene slowly extends towards pointing at dignity of labour when the Murad is silently shooed away when he approaches the pub to listen to the rap music being played inside. Social discrimination  is what tends to motivate the boy to pen down his frustrations and thus putting it all away. 

Another scene in which Murad measures the bathroom of Sky’s house is simply incredible. That scene says so much without a single dialogue in it. One more is when the Mother and the sons are having dinner in their new house. It is the only time that we see the younger brother speak. He is otherwise seen helplessly and silently observing the events that unfold at home. Walking away from an abusive father/husband seems to set them all free.

Another scene which made me laugh out loudly for its brilliance and timing is when the aunt , in middle of a very intense scene, comes to Murad and says - "If music interests you so much, why don’t you sing Ghazal? Your uncle loves them a lot." That was a brilliant dialogue and insanely funny at that very serious moment in the film. 

There are some scenes shot at night in the poem Doori that are brilliant. Such as, a car moving over a flyover and with street lights rolling over the screen as the car passes by and thus creating a beautiful light effect. The montage of daily labourers in the song Doori is again very well shot with a clair-obscur effect to the portraits. The candescent light illuminates the faces and presents clearly the emotions behind. Though all shots are amazing in the the song, my favourite are the one with a few men and two dogs, the one with a few Rajasthani looking women looking into the camera with a sad expression and the one with a construction worker eating a mango. 

Characters and performances - 

Murad - Murad aka Gully boy is quiet and reserved. However, he does not display any passive aggressiveness towards his abusive father. He does not revolt back until his father misbehaves with his mother. It is only then that Murad retaliates. Most importantly, his character seems real. The development in his character is very organic. It is not filmy in any sense. Art liberates him and introduces to certain people who help him shape his personality. However, art does not necessarily always feed your stomach. He has his friends and love interest who are a constant support to him. And just when one thinks that he is too good to be true, the writer introduces a flaw in him when he cheats on his girl friend and for a moment, gets carried away with his new found success and friendships. 

Speaking of Performance, this is one of the best performances of Ranveer Singh along side that in "Dil Dadkne Do". Ya, it does not have to always be over the top, loud characters like Khilji to prove acting abilities. An actor who has mastered subtlety and can convey emotions and ideas through silence is according to me, a fine actor. Unfortunately, many viewers consider characters that over-emote as superior. However, I do feel that he looks a bit older for the role but I can hardly imagine an other actor in his place. One of his best scenes is when he is showing his mother the music video he shot. That conversation is so natural that Ranveer totally disappears into being Murad in it. Underplaying this character, for Ranveer singh, would have been a challenge, given his loud and energetic personality otherwise. 

Safeena - Safeena is a girl who is extremely intelligent, ambitious and madly in love with her childhood friend. She can go to any extreme for him. She is often found masterfully lying to her parents to be with Murad. Hence she is innocently manipulative. She knows how to emotionally blackmail her father into getting what she wants. It is her survival tactics against her aggressive mother. As much as she is good with Murad and true to her love, she is flawed by excessive possessiveness for him and aggression towards those who she thinks have wronged her. Her mother is abusive and one scene where her mothers hits her violently hints at the source of her aggressive behaviour. Her mendacity is a result of restrictions that is imposed on her due to traditions and cultures defined by her religion or society. 

Alia Bhatt is spot on with her expressions. May it be when she is lying to her parents about Murad, in front of Albina, or when she is jealous about Murad making an album with Sky or when she is watching him record for the first time, she delivers a perfect performance. The fight scene between Safeena and Albina is hilarious and brilliantly shot.  Alia always rocks! And no, the fact that I am a fan of her acting has not biased me towards this appreciation. She is flawless in almost every scene. My favourite scene of hers is the one during her breakup with Murad. She really feels the emotion in the scene. Also, she successfully imitates the local muslim accent. 

Sky - Sky is a cultural shock for Murad. She is one of the most free spirited artists or person he has ever met in his life. She introduces him to the world of art and free thinking. I love the scene where she takes Murad on a night drive around the city along with her friends. For him, she comes out as a girl who is extremely opinionated about things. The song sequence conveys some interesting messages that questions body discrimination, racism and politics.  They go painting on the walls of the city and leave back notes such as "Brown and beautiful" in front of a fairness cream ad poster; a note saying " I am hungry, feed me!" kind of notes next to photographs of skinny models. While she and her friends, exposed to much more in the world, stand out as creative and opinionated, Murad, on the other hand, remains very naive while all he writes is - "Roti, Kapda aur Makaan (Food, Cloth and Shelter - The three basic needs of man)+ Internet" 

Kalki has done justice to this role. But she seems Kalki herself in it than the character. It appears to me that she has been playing only these kind of roles over and over again and it might be time for her to explore other dimensions as an actor. 

MC Sher - MC Sher is a very interesting character who encourages Murad to develop his interest in hip hop. He is a mentor and Big-brother kind of figure in Murad’s life. It is very clear from the beginning that Murad looks up to Sher. Siddanth Chaturvedi is impressive but at times he seems to put a lot of effort to appear cool. His favourite dialogue "Hard Hein bhai" seems less natural at places. But overall, he has done a great job and is undoubtedly a star in making. His best scene is when he looses the rap battle. His expression showed disappointment which he quickly covers up with the excitement to acknowledge his friend and disciple's victory. 

Moeen - Vijay Varma is out standing as Murad’s friend. Moeen is a completely messed up character, nevertheless,  a survivor. This is a grey character with some good traits and some flawed images. Though it is never displayed by scenes that he too is disturbed or affected by the fact that Murad now has new friends from the elite class, it becomes evident in one dialogue he masterfully slips in while discussing Safeena after she has a fight with Sky. He says -  "Even I deserve to be part of your english-speaking group of friends." 

Murad's Dad - Vijay Raaz is as always, brilliant. While on one hand he makes you hate him for his abusive nature, on the other, you sympathise with him in the end when Murad makes him realise that his beliefs could be wrong and just his perspective. He has simply accepted their reality as their fate. 

Murad's Mom - Amruta Subash shines in the role of Murad’s mother. One heart touching scene where she is at her best is when she has an argument with her husband about his second marriage. She turns hysterical when he ignores her and closes the door. That scene can make stones cry. 

Apart from these central characters, there are a few others who are refreshing. For example, the Grandmother is simply brilliant. Murad’s friend Salman has delivered a believable and noticeable performance. Safeena’s dad, who comes out as a liberal thinking, matured man stuck in an orthodox setup. He does understand his daughter’s concerns and tries to help her in the best manner he can while remaining in the boundary defined by the community or religion. 

One character that can easily go unnoticed is this boy who comes to see Safeena with a marriage proposal. He does not have a single dialogue in the film but he is outstanding in every frame that he is in. Initially when his parents are talking about his job and possible transfer, he is seen blushing at the praises and his achievements. There is slight shyness and lot of pride in his expression. 

Murad’s uncle played by Vijay maurya is an interesting character. He is a dominant personality and despite the suffering of his sister and nephew, he choses to remain loyal to his religion and traditions. 

Music - The music of this film is fantastic. Despite being mostly of the same genre, a noticeable variation in every song makes this album unique. 18 songs, for the first time in Indian cinema, does not look too much. This is a story about music and music in itself is a character in this film. My favourite tracks are - Doori (Poem and song), Jeene mein Aye Mazaa and Kab se Kab tak. The rest are great too but these touched me the most. 

Similarities - I don’t think I have seen any film of this kind before. The story did remind me though of the film "A guide to recognising the saints". It reminded me so much of this film that I was fearing that MC Sher would end up dying in this film like Mike in that movie. I simply could not watch that heart breaking scene that kills the most lively and ambitious character in the movie. Yes the background of Murad is very similar to that of Dito and the character of Moeen resembles that of Antonio from this film. But they could be just a coincidence. But apart from that they are completely different films. 

Undoubtedly, this is one of the finest films in the world of cinema. I feel proud that this is an Indian film and I am glad that Indian audience are getting used to subtlety. It is high time that we say good bye to melodramatic stories and elaborate and obvious dialogues and screenplays and make realistic cinema instead. Because if films do not evolve, so will not the audience. 

I leave you with the beautiful poem from the film called Doori - 


Kehne ko hum pass hai par
Kitni doori hai
Yeh bhi kaisi mazboori hai

(Despite being so close by, there exists a distance between us. 
What kind of a helplessness is this?)

Tumse hum dardi bhi
Nahi kar sakta main
Mere bas ki baat nahi hai

(I can’t even sympathise with you, such is my status.)

Main yeh bahte aansu pochun
Utni meri aukaat nahi hai

(Neither am I worthy of wiping those tears)

Main bhi yahin hoon
Tum bhi yahin ho

(I am right here and so are you)

Par sach ye hai
Main hoon kahin
Tum aur kahin

(But the truth is that, we are poles apart)

Kehne ko hum pass hai par
Kitni doori hai
Ye bhi kaisi mazboori hai

(One may say that we are close by, But there exists an unseen distance between us. 
What kind of a helplessness is this?) 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Backpacking Cambodia - Tips

Planning - 

Book flight tickets at least two months in advance at a reasonable price. Air Asia is the cheapest airline and has good deals. I found it perfectly comfortable for a flight of 3 Hours. Your transit point could be Kuala Lampur or Bangkok. I flew into Siem Reap and flew out of Phnom Penh. I would suggest the same if you want to explore the country. Coming back to the same location is not difficult but is a waste of time. 

Cambodian Government offers visa on arrival service for many countries. For Indians as well. It might be about 5-6$ cheaper if you directly apply for it there. But I would recommend obtaining an e-visa which takes just 5-10 minutes to revive your permit on the Government website. 

Carry US Dollars with you, from your respective country. All transactions in Cambodia are done in Dollars or Riel. People often prefer US dollars over Riel. Carrying small changes like 1$ would come handy as most goods and services are priced around a few dollars. 

I often carry a Lonely Planet guide to plan my travels within a country. I must say that I did not really use it much. You can just arrive at a hostel and then discuss with co-travellers to get an idea of what to see or where to go next. If you like to have something handy, then Lonely planet or any guide book would do. 

First thing to do when you land - 

If you have not brought US dollars with you, then you could use one of the ATMs to withdraw some money. Exchange rates are better in town. In 2019 it was 4000 Riel for every dollar. So, I would recommend you exchange money in local shops to get better deals. As it is, you can survive just with US Dollars. 

Also important is to buy a sim card. I bought that of Smart network and it had excellent connectivity everywhere. I bought the sim at the hostel. I would recommend the same. I paid $4 for the sim and then charged it one more time after a week for $2. It had good data plan. 

Accommodation - 

You can find hostels almost everywhere in Cambodia. There are guest houses in both cities and remote places. I find Hostels cheaper ($5-10) for solo travellers. You could use Hostelworld to make your bookings. I would recommend hostels like Onederz at Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, Lucky Hostel at Battambang and Mad Monkey in Koh Rong Sanloem. You can check the posts on particular city for the hostel details. Almost all hostels are neat. The toilets in Cambodia are wet toilets so they would have faucets (Which the travellers refer to as Bum gun) so western travellers should carry toilet papers. 

Transport - 

There is no Government public transport in Cambodia. Cities don’t even have buses. So, all rely on tuk-tuk and motor bike Taxi (Remork). To travel within the city, I prefer walking. If you want, you can try two of the earlier mentioned mode of transport. For exploring around a city, you can hire scooters for $8-10 per day. It is cheaper to rent them outside than to rent them at the hostel. 

For long distance travel, there are several private bus services. It is easy to book any of them by walking to their offices in the city. Usually the bus stations are outside of town but there would be a shuttle service running between the office in the city and the station. Again, buy the tickets directly from the operators rather than from the hostel who charge $3 more. I would highly recommend Capitol bus service as they are professional. I did try others, but they were not as consistent and punctual as Capitol. You can also find shared taxi for long distance travels. 

Food - 

Food in Cambodia is delicious. As a vegetarian, my options were limited but whatever I ate were just amazing. Amok is a traditional dish of Cambodia. It’s a curry made of coconut milk gravy steamed in a plantain leaf. Fried noodles is tasty as well, depending on how it is prepared. In most cities, you will find pizza, pasta or burgers in almost every restaurant. There are a few all veg restaurants like my favourite Monorom Garden in Battambang. Everything I had in this restaurant was simply delicious. 

While on road, you must try the bamboo sticky rice, a traditional rice variety cooked with coconut milk and some beans in a bamboo cup. Also, rice cakes and spring rolls are tasty. There are a lot of rice or banana based snacks that you find to munch on while riding. 

For desserts do not miss the tasty Mango sticky rice. Fresh fruit juices are common here and also cold coconut water. Coconut water is a life saver in that weather. Rice wine is something you should taste if you are into alcohol. 

But one big disappointment for me here was that this is the only country I have traveled to where water is not free. I could refill my bottle (That too from a water can) only in some places but mostly they prefer selling water bottles. Almost everybody drinks bottled water. 

Communication - 

As mentioned above, Smart network worked great for me. I had network even in remote areas like Cardamom mountains region and the islands. Recharging can be done at any shop in the town. 

Culture - 

The people of Cambodia are extremely kind and friendly to the tourists. They are never short of a warm smile. But what I really like is that they don’t bother the tourists. In fact they don’t even stare at foreign travellers. The country relies heavily on tourism so one is sure to have a great experience here. While visiting a temple or a monastery ensure to be dressed decently - Your shoulders must be covered, wear something that covers your legs up to knee. 

Places to See - 

Of course the Angkor wat is a must. For backpackers, I would highly recommend Koh Rong Sanloem island, its the quieter one of the two island. For trekkers, tropical forest of Cardamom mountains is a good place. Please refer to my posts for details. All Cambodia Related Posts  Here 

What to buy - 

Buy silver jewellery in Siem Reap (At Night market) or Phnom Penh (At Central Market), tropical fruits from local market (Mangosteen and Longans are my favourites), palm sugar, real cheap clothes and cashew nut.

I would highly recommend making your purchases at local and Night markets of Siem Reap. They are the best. Night market in Phnom Penh is also good but not as vast as the former. 

My Route - 

Siem Reap -> Battambang -> Sihanoukville -> Koh Rong Sanloem -> Koh Rong -> Koh Kong -> Osoam (Cardamom Mountains) -> Kampot -> Kep -> Phnom Penh

My Expenses -  

I spent around Rs 40,ooo on this trip of 14 days. This amount does not include flight and visa charges that depends on your booking. However, for me, I did spend a bit more on souvenirs and food. I could have easily reduced my expense to Rs 30,000. So I think you can estimate a budget travel cost of Rs 2500 per day.