Sunday, January 04, 2009

Random Notes on a Demented Year

2008 was a crazy year. My professional career hardly gave me any time to breathe, lots to learn & grow, and nothing much to show as the end-result. It also was a year where the entire world caught a housing-related chill, soon to become an endemic economic & financial flu. India was supposedly insulated, but honestly, tough and turbulent times lie ahead. It will take a thick skin to keep faith in the India story.

As I hardly had any time to write, I thought I will put in some words about things I thought about during the year, but never managed to deliberate upon.

The Year of Terror

I still do not know what was the final victim count of the Bihar floods (possible the worst tragedy of the year in terms of accounted/unaccounted casualties). However, there is no denying that 2008 belonged to the terrorists, from the amateurish (Mehrauli bomb-blasts in September) to the spine-chilling deadly (26/11). What this did was bring the 20-200 million-strong Indian middle class (dependent upon which study you want to go by) back in to the mainstream. Tehelka published a lovely article, primarily as an obituary for Rohinton Maloo, but very well articulating why the Indian middle-class cannot live in a vacuum independent of the Indian political & administrative-class.

The Pakistan Conundrum

What 26/11 also proved is however much we want to leave behind our Pakistan fixation, it catches up with us, directly or indirectly. The world does not know what to make out of this nuclear-armed fast-failing state. And in spite of the hullaboo, while our response has been fairly measured, Pakistan has simply been caught in a war hysteria. For those who might propogate a tougher Indian response, just check out the tragic happenings in Gaza.


There was no stand-out Hindi film in the year. As I missed Welcome to Sajjanpur & Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, I thought Jodhaa Akbar was the best, followed by a personal quirk, Tahaan (superbly shot in Kashmir and directed as a fable by Santosh Sivan). I also thought Dostana was quite okay, proving that unlike his good friend Adi, KJo is at least finding new niches in the candy floss genre. Rock On got a lot of hype, but apart from some super music, and Farhan Akhtar proving himself to be the most complete entertainer (not necessarily the greatest actor, at least on current evidence) since that genius Kishore Kumar, I thought the movie was just about okay (definitely not another Dil Chahta Hai).

However, in English, The Dark Knight stood out bigtime, followed by the superb Kung Fu Panda (scoring over the other much celebrated animation film, Wall-E). Kung Fu Panda pretty much achieves the heights of animation - a quirky feel-good tale of the triumph of an underdog, superbly told. The one lesson I learnt for life, 'there are no secrets'.

Daniel Craig also came back with his second Bond outing, Quantum of Solace. As Vir Sanghvi put it, Craig is the only Bond after Connery who looks capable of murder (not to forget he is a superb actor to boot; he does capture the drabness of the book Bond best). However, the problem with Quantum.. was that it made James Bond in to an extension of Jason Bourne. The movie was a montage of superb action shots, interspersed with rare & few Bond moments (the escape from the elevator, the tribute to Goldfinger). However, Bond's continuous mourning for Vesper got grating after a while. Sadly, even the sex looked reluctant. Since he seems to have sort of exorcised his demons at the end, they might present Bond as a Tintin now.

Clash of the Titans

For the first time since 2001, when Lagaan and Asoka were apparently competing with each other for the nod to be the official nomination from India for the Oscars, the two big Khans of the Bombay film industry: Shah Rukh & Aamir, clashed at the box-office in December (totally unlike the other clash SRK had with the third big Khan, Salman). Aamir had upped the ante in the year with some uncharacteristic taunts, and our Hindi news channels had a field day. SRK, after his physical brawl, refused to bite the bait. My personal take is both wanted to have a good laugh at the rest of the world's expense, although Aamir just might be giving SRK a taste of his own often-biting humour.

The country's premier production house, Yashraj Films, had an exceptionally tough year. And Aditya Chopra took up the directorial reins after almost a decade to bail it out. While SRK did launch the Haule Haule song on his birthday, RNBDJ released with out any of his customary all pervasive media interactions (was it because of Bombay?). However, Aamir went on his usual PR over-drive (seen earlier in the year during the launch of his home production, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na). Moreover, from the promos, RNBDJ looked stale (with pedestrian music), while Ghajini looked cutting-edge (hummable AR Rahman numbers shot in exotic locales like Namibia). However, both Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and Ghajini turned out to be damp squibs.

RNBDJ proved that there are not enough permutations left for telling a love story in Hindi cinema (although Jaane Tu.. did tell an old tale rather okay). The movie was possibly Bhansali's Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam meets Shrek. While the wafer-thin story was narrated in a rather convoluted manner, SRK as Surinder Sahni became the redeeming factor. He out-acted Aamir in Ghajini, and his introductory romatic flirtations and end-credit honeymoon are hilarious. And while Surinder's alter-ego Raj might come across as irritating, I thought it was a quirky take on SRK the star. I could not really get the dilemma Surinder was posing to his bride (maybe just to get his feet touched, the MCP). It might have been much more fun if Raj actually was a different person, but then we have had enough of love triangles too.

Ghajini was Aamir having fun; at the risk of being racist, Tamil style. The movie is an old-fashioned 80s style revenge potboiler, apparently with elements borrowed from Nolan's Memento. Aamir hams it up, and while his fake-identity romance with Asin was too unreal, they did have decent chemistry (their last meeting where she gives him money for his mother is possibly the best cinematic moment, with the super melody Kaise Mujhe). Aamir has performed well in that particular scene, but still did not reveal the truth of his identity. In fact, if Asin would have survived, she should have broken up just for his treachery.

Possibly to justify his subsequent transformation into a killing machine, Aamir is shown as a corporate hulk through out. However, the climax is ridiculous to say the least (Sunny Deol should sue for copyright infringement). The gruesome murder of Asin easily pales Ghajini's demise (a rather tame villain, whose goons believe in no revolvers). Moreover, the real interesting (and cutting-edge) bit would have come from Aamir's initial plotting of his revenge. He is not shown as having any accomplices, and how he remembers Ghajini (when it was just whispered in his ears before he lost his memory) is coveniently left to the imagination.

As Uncle Ben told Peter in Spider-Man, 'with great power comes great responsibility'.

Cricket: The Passing Over of the Titans

India had a good promising year in cricket. The momentous occassion was the retirement of Anil Kumble (who was terrible throughout). Ganguly also bid a timely farewell, when he was playing his best. Sachin Tendulkar answered a lot of the tough questions asked about his match-winning abilities by two superb centuries, one against Australia in the first VB Series final at Sydney, and another against England at the Chennai Test. He might not have the style of old, but the substance more than makes up. The redeeming factor was that Jeff Crowe still had the sense to award the Man of Match to Sehwag at Chennai.

While India have been continously challenging Australia since Calcutta in 2001, the real blow was given by South Africa. Remember, India somehow lost 2-1 to pretty much the same bowling attack last year, and also faltered against a debutant Mendis in Sri Lanka. India deserved to win 2-0 against the Aussies at home, but would have never got it if the Aussies had not decided to go after the target on the last day of Nagpur.

While India has become a terrific ODI team, we still need to win more (like against the Aussies in Delhi or England in Mohali) to be called the No.1 Test team. The key would be the promising Ishant Sharma to go the way of Dale Steyn rather than Irfan Pathan, and for Rahul Dravid to possily elongate his career at No.5 (swapping with VVS). If only we can replace the dead Ranji Trophy with an IPL format now!

Sports: Inspiration from Beijing

China truly established itself on the global stage by successfully holding the Beijing Olympics. Thankfully, Abhinav Bindra chose the venue of our global rival to win India's maiden individual gold medal. However, the real challenge for the billion-strong Indians' Olympic paradox would be transform the 3 medals of Beijing to 30 at London.

The other key moments were the crowning of the World Chess Champion of Vishwanathan Anand for the third time (in three different formats), and the qualification of the Indian football team for the 2011 Asia Cup.

Yes We Can

As a balm on the tough year gone by, and for the tougher times lying ahead, Barack Obama came in from nowhere as an 'agent for change'. A new-age digital leader, Obama could not put a foot wrong. He proved his magnanimity by appointing once bitter rival Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State, and unprecedentedly, retaining President Bush' appointee Robert Gates as the Secretary of Defense. To further justify his credentials as a global role-model, he unveiled a flat-pack abs when on vacation in Hawaii. His economic policies are still unproven, but somehow President-elect Obama inspires hope in a fast depressing world like noone else.

Happy New Year to All!

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