Fashion: A Film Review

October 31, 2008

This is my first attempt at reviewing a movie, I am an avid movie-goer but I have never reviewed one. I saw “Fashion” today and I do want to say a few things about the movie.

This piece may contain some spoilers so those who wish to watch the movie and are particular about these things may wish to skip this piece.

I had nearly given up on Madhur Bhandarkar with the passage of time. I thought “Chandni Bar” was brilliant, “Page 3” was acceptable, and “Corporate” was a disaster. I was so disappointed with the director that I avoided seeing “Traffic Signal”. (I have not seen his other movies, “Satta” and “Trishakti”, either). After “Corporate” the only thought I had was that here is a great movie director but one who had gone to seed.

Fashion” has reinstated my faith in the director.

The story is about the fashion-modelling industry. It is told through three women. One a super-model, Shonali, (Kangana Ranaut) who is not able to handle her super-success and denigrates into drug-addiction, eventually losing her life to drug overdose. The other, a B-class model, Janet Sequeira (Mugdha Godse) street-smart but with a heart of gold ends up making compromises with life. And the third, Meghna Mathur, (Priyanka Chopra), a small-town girl with big ambitions of becoming a super-model after winning a local beauty contest.

The story of the industry is told through the interweaving lives of these three women.

Meghna Mathur has the looks and more importantly the “spunk” (as the model agency boss Kitu Gidwani puts it with admiration in a remarkable scene at her office) to make it to the top. She quickly moves up, compromising her morals and eventually this spunk, which from confidence moves to arrogance, does her in. Meghna had replaced Shonali as the super-model and she in turn gets unseated by another newcomer. The last 40-50 minutes deal with how she gets into a depression and then claws her way back to being a top model all over again.

While this is a story of three women in the modelling world, the remarkable thing is that the script-writers and the director have managed to write-in several supporting characters with great body and clarity. The designers, model coordinators, the modelling industry movers and shakers, all written with care and detail. As also the working details of the industry. Even the dialogue exchange between the photographers, so reminiscent of the drivers’ exchange of words in “Page 3”.

I have no insider information about how this industry works, my only exposure to it is through mass media. So whether some designers are gays, models keep smoking all the time and quaffing bottles of wine before a show, models sleeping with their bosses, etc, I have no way of knowing. I do not know whether designers buy garments from global markets (“Indira market” of Bangkok in this movie), change tags and pass them as their own.  Maybe stereotypes, but all ring true.

And yes, this movie does have a “wardrobe malfunction” but this would hardly gladden the heart of a voyeur. This is so sensitively handled that one feels like crying with the model concerned when she has a break-down in the green room after she returns from the stage.

I do wish, though, that the movie was about 30-40 minutes shorter, it tends to drag a bit after the interval. A 2:45 hour movie is a bit too much!

The way the character of Meghna is written, it could be the role of a lifetime for any actress. And does Priyanka grab the offer! With both hands. Head and heart firmly in place! She is there in virtually every frame, and the camera lovingly captures her beauty and emotions. Emotions right from the eager-beaver days of being a struggler from a small town, to someone gaining entry into the industry, at her peak and then the decline. The scene where she breaks down in front of the mirror in her bedroom ashamed at her moral decline (wiping kaajal and liner off her tear-sodden face; like wiping away the “kaalikh” from her face) is a treat to watch. The big show where she is about to re-enter the modeling world but has a personal tragedy to simultaneously deal with is heart-rending.

Kangana Ranaut breaks your heart with her destined-to-death life-script. Though, to be fair, this characterization reminds me too closely of her performance in “Gangster” (the only other movie of hers I have seen). I always thought of Mugdha Godse as just a model with an impossibly sculpted body (to have an idea, watch the poster of the film, the one which has the three protagonists together), but she is totally easy on the camera. Very likeable. Kitu Gidwani is competent, and so are the male characters of Arbaaz Khan, Samir Soni, Harsh Chhaya, Ashwin Mushran. Madhur Bhandarkar too makes a Hitchcockian appearance as himself.

When I returned home after seeing the movie (we had wisely, not taken our kids along), my younger son who is all of 12 years asked me what I would rate the movie as. I said three, and he, a follower of TOI’s Nikhat Kazmi, was satisfied.

What I meant was: Three cheers for Madhur Bhandarkar, we shall await your next!

Ah! Those Bicycles!

October 31, 2008

They used to have names like Hercules, Hero and Avon and they were the dreams of all young boys in the neighbourhood. Strong and sturdy, often black in colour, sometimes green, we all wished to possess them sooner rather than later. No, these were not the names of heroes in the latest in computer games. Nor even the wrestlers of WWF. But as desirable to us kids, even more so. These were brands of bicycles which all of us used to wonder when we will have one of our own!

Cycles those days used to signify coming of age! Not like these days when the sooner the baby is able to stand on her/ his feet she/ he is graduated through a series of cycles till at the age of 16 a scooty is bought for the “baby” to ferry itself to the school/ college. All kinds of fancy bikes, starting from the tricycle with a long guide sticking up at the back to enable the parent to manoeuver the vehicle across. Then followed the real tricycle which quickly gave way to a small bicycle with supporting wheelettes at either sides of the rear wheel. Very soon, when the kid got bored of the adjunct wheels, these would be pulled out and the kid would learn to balance itself on just two wheels. Then would follow a series of fancy new bikes, nearly all of them with gears for the kids to move smoothly around the paved pathways and the lawns around the house. Geared bikes in fluorescent blues, greens and yellows! And not to miss the cute helmet (like a mountain biker’s) the kid would wear should it tumble from the bike onto the lawns. And sometimes even a water bottle affixed to the bike frame should the kid feel dehydrated during its evening biking expeditions.

In our days, a bicycle had to be earned. Mostly by doing better in studies. Some lucky few would get a brand new bike bought for them, others like yours truly had to make do with hand-me-down cycles. What mattered was the ownership of a cycle. Besides academic excellence, one would even had to promise a host of chores one would do should a cycle were to be given. Mundane chores like carrying the bag of wheat on the cycle “carrier” to the local flour mill for milling. Or fetching supplies of groceries from the market. Or ferrying the younger sibling to school  Etc etc.

Kids would start preparing for their cycling careers pretty early. There were no cute versions to experiment with. So one would borrow whatever bikes available (often from a visitor to the household) and try riding the cycle. Of course it was not the age where you were tall enough to mount the saddle. So you would “ride” the cycle in what was called in Jamshedpur the “scissor-style” (“kainchi”) where one would place the right foot through the triangular space under the pillion rod, right hand gripping the pillion rod while the left hand and foot were precariously positioned on the handle and pedal respectively. It is tough for me to describe this position but all the old timers would have gone through this when they were kids. This was hardly a comfortable exercise, but was a great introduction to cycling. And this also helped us gain a sense of balance. Over time, one would learn how to mount the saddle by placing the bike near some raised surface (stump of a tree, a clay mound, whatever) and then getting some friends to push the bike (and the biker) till such time some traction was gained and one was “coasting” along. It was a bit of a strain on ones body to be able to place a toe-hold alternately on either pedal. Such is how one learnt how to cycle and to prepare for the D-day!

I got mine by making the aforementioned promises, but only when my elder brother left for higher studies outside Jamshedpur. And then I “inherited” his five year old Avon cycle! What a day of joy it was, the day he left. I set about cleaning the cycle with a washcloth, wiping away all the grease from each nook and corner. I even took it to the nearest cycle-repair wallah to get the tubes inflated to their maximum! And then a joyous ride around the neighbourhood, a few rounds all by myself and then another few carrying neighbourhood kids on the pillion. All the while jangling the cycle bell affixed to the right handle to announce my new found status!

And that reminds me, there was a social stratification among the humble cycles too. At the top of the ladder were the slender and fancy BSA bikes with a racing bike look. These used to come in a variety of colors beyond the regulation black or green.

And then there were the remaining bikes. Those sturdy faithfuls going by brand names mentioned earlier!

While all of these may look alike to a lay observer, each cycle had a mix of distinguishing features. Essentially via accessories and adornments. Take for example the bell. It was either the simple cacaphonous “tring-tring” bell or the the more melodious (and costlier) version which had a shriller and a more appealing sound. Or the lock. A plain-vanilla chain (sheathed in a section of an old cycle tube to avoid damaging the cycle frame) going around the rear wheel and secured with a padlock. Or an elegant ring-lock which would have its own customized key. Sometimes both. Or such baubles like fancy handle covers or frilly multi-colored decorations around the axle of either of the wheels. Or the brakes encased in a length of corrugated plastic tubing to enable a firm, non-slip grip. The cycle stands were differentiated too. One which held the cycle vertically up at the rear end affixed with a smart kick downwards as one was parking the cycle. Or the sissy way of reclining the cycle on a “leg” mounted on the rear axle which would position the bike at a tilted angle. (Most of us abhorred this version!). I could go on-and-on about the other differentiating features: the half or full chain guard (affixing an errant loose chain in a full-chain guard configuration was a near impossible job as one would have to negotiate the errant chain though the small cubby-hole of a window near the pedal) Or the cushioned saddle (often torn by envious friends) versus the leather ones which when wet were quite an ordeal. Actually an ordeal at non-wet times as well! Some advanced versions of cycles would have a dynamo attached to the rear wheel which would light up a lamp affixed to the handle. Some would even have a cushioned pillion rod for the comfort of the rider.

Talking about an errant loose chain, come to think of it that was the commonest problem faced by a cyclist. Some experience would help you learn the quickest way to fix the chain. (remove the chain from both ends and then fix the rear portion first). Another common problem was punctured tubes. Help was at hand at hand, however, at every street corner where the cycle-repair man sat under the shade of a tree with a wooden boxful of tools, a cycle pump and a bucket of water to check for the exact location of the puncture. He would pull out the inflated tube, pump it up, immerse it in the bucket and locate the puncture via the tell-tale signs of bubbles issuing form the puncture. A square piece of rubber was cut off an old tube with a rusty pair of scissors and the corners of the square snipped. The square rubber piece and the area around the puncture was sand-papered. A magical “solution” – branded Dhole’s if I remember right- was applied to either of the surfaces and soon the tube was back to near normal!

Cycling was not without frequent accidents. But what was an injury or two to diminish the unbridled joy of cycling!

Then there were varying levels of expertise among the cyclists. Some would be able to leap onto a moving cycle and sit on the carrier. Some would sit on the pillion rod and lend a helping leg to the cyclist. “Double-pedal”, this was called. Friends with this skill were particularly welcome in Jamshedpur with its sloping roads.

My Avon remained with me through my engineering college days. It used to ferry me the 2 km distance from my hostel to the department classrooms. It saw me through safely on my 6 day, 5 night expedition from Varanasi to Delhi and the 12 hours trip from Varanasi to Allahabad to be in time to watch the LA Olympics opening ceremony at a friend’s place there. (Varanasi did not have TV those days). And of course countless trips to cinema halls to watch movies.

It is a pity I sold off my Avon to the local postman at the University. The lure of some extra bucks to catch up on some movies after the final exam of engineering was a bit too over-powering then. Or maybe I was just plain bored with the cycle.

I should have retained the machine to help me negotiate the dreadful traffic in Bangalore. Or maybe I should stop regretting this, and get myself a new cycle now. Do they sell black Avon cycles these days?

The Tunnel

October 22, 2008

I know for a fact,

it feels just right,

so absolutely right,

there exists a deep long tunnel at the end of the light.


The gathering dark clouds,

the menacing shrouds,

the roll of thunder,

the bolts of lightning,

all threatening a long, dark night.


My face changes to a frown,

on the sight of the clown,

his exertions,

his contortions,

today just do not feel right.


The rays bouncing off the tunnel,

as in an inverted funnel,

pouring the woes,

in unmitigated torrents,

things, suddenly, do not seem so bright.


It is right,

so painfully right,

there is a deep long tunnel at the end of the light.


Death of Repairs (and recycling)

October 14, 2008

The other day, my younger son discovered after his canvas shoes were washed that he could not insert the shoe-laces into the shoe eyelets. The metal tips of the lace (called: “aglet”, now you have learnt a new word!) had been washed away and the tips were too frayed to be inserted. There was some discussion in the house whether to buy a new pair of shoe laces or to buy a new pair of shoes.

A new pair of shoes just because shoe laces were proving difficult! I was aghast!

Sanity prevailed finally, and after much debate we settled for new laces.

And this little episode brought home the point how we so casually get into a replacement mode when some common sense would do the trick and salvage the situation.

I have worn laced shoes (both leather and white canvas PT shoes) all my school life and the solution during my days would deal with multiple options: using a thick needle to coax the lace into the eyelet, or applying some water or oil and twirling the frayed lace-end into shape-enough to be inserted or even tightly tying the ends with small rounds of thread to give it some shape and firmness so that they would get threaded through the eyelets. Something did work, eventually!

Not these days, alas! No! The thinking nowadays is, if it is broke, don’t fix; replace!

But I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. Father, the sole bread earner, had to manage the needs and wants of a family of eight with the meager salary of a college lecturer. So things had to be repaired and recycled, there was no choice here.

Take for example items of clothing.

When a shirt collar was frayed, it was removed, turned around and stitched back again so that the frayed bit would be hidden while the visible part would be perfect.

Or when the buttons gave way, one would stitch on buttons, never mind if you could not find buttons of identical colour; there was nothing that a black button (or a white, or a blue!) would not go with!

Or when the trouser pocket lining gave way due to keys kept inside the pocket, it was the lining which was replaced, not the trouser.

Or when the kids were growing taller at a rate greater than what the family finances could afford. The simple solution to the shortening trouser length was to release more and more of the fabric from the fold at the bottom of the trouser! Or from the waist-line if the hips were expanding fast as well!

And finally, if all these efforts to manage the length and width failed, there was always the child next in line to utilize the trouser!

And now coming back to the footwear example.

If the shoe soles had come off, there was always this option of going to the cobblers who sat with their awls at every street corner and get the soles replaced. You even had a choice of a half-sole replacement or a full-sole replacement. (Half-sole was much cheaper).

If the hawai chappal straps snapped-off from the middle, you could have them stitched as well. Or in the worst case, have the straps replaced at the chappal-seller’s shop who would do the trick with a nifty turn of an aluminium tool and some waxy substance which he would coat around the strap end and the slot in the chappal.

Second-hand books were always bound at home with a thick needle and thread, never discarded. Dented metal utensils were tended to with care by the friendly neighbourhood “thathera”. I could go on-and-on.

Why limit ourselves to repairs, what about recycling stuff?

Old newspaper was used for a variety of applications: lining material for  shelves, covering for books, making small envelopes for sundry stuff; the applications were endless! And once in a while a contribution to the school campaign to collect funds for some drought relief or flood relief.

Or, used cotton clothes as dusting/ wiping material, father’s used shaving blades as pencil sharpeners and nail cutters, left-over rice as glue. Not to mention food recycled in a myriad ways. Each family had its own recipe for this purpose.

Nature’s gifts were always recycled to extract their utility to the fullest!

No wonder then that people of my generation had not heard of global warming or other such similar exotic stuff!

How I Learnt (some) Hindi

October 13, 2008

This story is on my Hindi learning, the initial stages I went through.

My father was a Hindi professor, so it was not a major surprise to anyone that all of us were proficient in Hindi. We spoke Hindi at home, we wrote letters to various relatives in Hindi (right from Pujyawar Baba to Saadar Charan Sparsh), we took part in Hindi elocution contests and generally were considered the Hindi gurus in our respective classes.

Hindi education for all of us began with a particular text book. No sooner we were some 3 years old, Pitaji woulod buy a text book called Manohar Pothi. A slim booklet printed in black and white. I discovered much later that it was written by a very respected litterateur Shivpujan Sahay.

There was something unique about this book: it did not teach Hindi the conventional way starting from the basic alphabet, but jumped straight into words and even sentences. Like “Ma” “Mala” “la”, eventually brought together in a neat little sentence, “Ma mala la”. Of course there were the usual line drawings of a lady (=ma) and a mala. That was, I suppose, more to drive home the point rather than illustrate the book for a child’s amusement.

I have always thought that this made me one-up on other kids who studied Hindi the conventional way, “Ka se kabutar”, “Kha se khargosh” (sometimes “kha se kharaha” as well), “ga se gadha”… etc. Some of the more interesting ones I remember are “Tha se Thathera” preceding “da se damru” and “Sha se Shatkon”. Thathera, means a domestic utensil repairman, was illustrated by an oldish, dhoti-clad gentleman bending over a bunch of utensils probably straightening out the contours of a lota or a thali. Shatkon means a hexagon, mind you this word was spelt with the alphabet for Sha which resembles a “pa”, and not the sha with which you spell “shaaam”. And if you are interested in more of the “complicated words, Ksha was for kshatriya, tra was for trikon!

Not the real Manohar Pothi, but a wannabe!
Not the real Manohar Pothi, but a wannabe!

Damru, Thathera, et al
Damru, Thathera, et al

The world of talavya, dantya and moordhanyasa’s” was very complicated (even my name has two of these!!) and we were better off with “Manohar Pothi”!

And the Hindi learning was not limited to the alphabet; it went on to numerical skills as well. First, the counting. Ek, do,teen. That was easy. But in the best traditions of Bihari scholars it was important for me to be proficient in multiplication tables as well. Tables of 2, 3 etc were “mastered” initially and then followed the tables of the double digit numbers. These were taught with creativity to get the attention of kids. Very poetic, if a multiplication table can be. Sample this. Table for 15. Dooni tees (15X2=30), tee paintalees, chaukey saath (15X4=60).., which went on to atthey beesa (15X8= 120), nau painteesa (15X9=135).

Do dooni Chaar.... Nau chaukey chhattis...
Do dooni Chaar…. Nau chaukey chhattis…

There were some nerds in our community who always wanted to show off their skills with tables for fractions… sawaiya (tables for 1 ¼), adhaiya (tables for 2 ½). But I managed to stubbornly avoid these!

Over time I learnt how to read and write Hindi and it was time to graduate to kids’ magazines.

Those days there were four key publications, Parag, Nandan, Chandamama and Bal Bharati. We subscribed to the first two, the other two were read infrequently. Between Parag and Nandan, Parag had more contemporary contents while Nandan dealt with kings and queens. Parag by far was my favorite and I still remember two great story-tellers who were regulars at Parag, Avatar Singh whose stories of Dadaji and Nanaji and their respective groups of grand-children and their friends were always very hilarious. And then there was Vidwan K. Narayanan, a Chennai-based writer who used to write most poignant stories. Nandan had Raja-rani stories but somehow they were much better as compared with Chandamama’s fare. By a strange quirk, the editor of Parag was the renowned Hindi writer Kanhaiyalal “Nandan”!

What fights we kids would have in the house when the latest copies of Parag and Nandan would arrive!

Anyway, as the years transpired I moved on to more serious stuff; Premchand, Devaki Nandan Khatri, Gulshan Nanda. And then some more. But I suppose I shall write about this phase in a later post.