The Problem With Us Filmmakers Today

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We filmmakers, today, in India, are in a soup, to put it mildly. Out of every ten films that are made, maybe, and just maybe, one film is a good film. Those are not very good odds.

Look at the dichotomy here. Filmmaking has never been easier. Hey, nowadays, you can even shoot a film on your iPhone and win Sundance with it! You don’t even have to pay for film! And editing, no more scissors cutting through film. No more complicated conversion machinery. All you need is a laptop, and a decent enough editing software, which , surprisingly enough, are extremely affordable.

Today, the ease of filmmaking is such that you can make a film, while sitting at home.

And yet, we are making some of the worst films that we have ever made in this country.

Yes, there is a problem with us filmmakers today. And that problem…is that we fail to connect with our audience.

The thing is, each generation of filmmakers come with their own set of intrinsic problems. For most of the earlier generations, it was technology and money. Coming from a poor country, they had a plethora of stories to tell but no means to tell them. Resources were limited. But the stories that they had to tell were stories that people wanted to hear. The stories they told struck a chord.

Us, not so much. We don’t suffer from a lack of resources. On the other hand, we have to resources handed out to us. But the stories we have to tell, those are not the stories people want to hear.

And it is important to understand why this is so. A storyteller is only as good as the audience s/he attracts. Why do our stories not attract an audience? Why do we resort to making a Dabanng or a Hate Story to make a profit? Why do the films that we think are good, like Tamasha, fail to achieve what a Prem Ratan Dhan Payo does? Why do even films like Tamasha not cross the line between ‘good film’ and ‘very good film’? Why are our films no longer internationally acclaimed? Filmmakers blame producers, producers blame the audience and the audience? Well, the poor audience has no say in all this. The audience has no say in the kind of films that are dished out to him.

After all, we the better educated, the better travelled, who are equally at ease with both Sushi and Butter Chicken, know better, don’t we?

Don’t we?

Or do we?

Once upon a time, there wasn’t much of a difference between the urban Indian and the rural Indian. The only difference was money. But today, that’s not the case.

Today’s urban India is no different from say, a Europe or North America. We urban Indians today are global citizens! And that’s great!

But somewhere in this race, rural Indian has gotten left behind. Stuck in a time loop fifty years ago. And we say they don’t understand our films?

Of course they don’t! How can we even expect them to?

The problem here is not they don’t understand our films. The problem here is that we don’t understand them. The problem here, is that we fail them, day after day, insulting their intelligence with sub-par movies saying, but this is what they want!

When did we even ask them?

It’s not their responsibility to make an effort to understand our stories. No. We are the storytellers. It is our responsibility to go amongst them and tell their stories, in the best way that we can.

And maybe it is time we did so. And then, maybe, just maybe, we will start telling stories they actually want to hear.

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The Supermen of Malegaon


Supermen of Malegaon is a 2012 documentary directed by Faiza Ahmed Khan. It is a unique story. The 65 minutes long movie chronicles the adventures of Nasir, Farogh and Akram as they make a parody of Superman in their own native town, Malegaon.

That sounds very simplistic, doesn’t it? Patronising, even. But its not as simple as that.

Malegaon is a small town in Maharasthra, in the district of Nashik, located on the Mumbai- Agra Highway. It has a population of 471,006, according to the 2012 census. At first glance, it sounds like your stereotypical sleepy little town, that no one has heard of, tucked away in the middle of nowhere. But Malegaon is far from that. What Malegaon is known for is its power-loom industry. But that industry is breathing its last breaths, faced with fluctuating government policies, frequent electricity outage, lack of political will and a reluctance to change over to more modern techniques. But at the same time, another industry is breathing its first breaths over here. A film industry.

Yes, Malegaon has a film industry and it is called Mollywood. And they have made three films so far, Malegaon ka Sholay, Malegaon ka Shaan and Malegaon ka Superman. All three are parodies. In fact, the Superman of Malegaon is like none other. He slips, he falls, he tumbles over. He’s out to rescue small children from drowning but ends up needing rescuing himself. He’s up there, flying in the sky and oh no, there that was crash landing. Director Nasir Shaikh maintains that he wants to make comedies because laughter, in this world, is so rare and precious. Truer words were never uttered.

Through this documentary, Faiza Ahmed Khan gives us a glimpse into a world that we often belittle, that we often take for granted. It it is not so simple. Humankind is a much more complex organism. And Malegaon is no exception to that. Malegaon is a land of contradictions, a land of surprises, and yet not exactly so.

A film industry; what is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that phrase? Glamour? Liberal? Maseratis? Mollywood has none of that. Yet there is another side to every film industry. One that is gritty, down to earth, overworked and is a kindgdom of dreams. Malegaon embodies that. Malegaon shows us the true side of every film industry on earth.

Film industries, all over the world, are hypocritical. We only see the world of the stars, their spats, their fights, their flamboyant lifestyles and their three day parties. But the people who truly make up the film industry are not stars. They are the worker bees. They are dreamers, yes, but they may or may not ever achieve that dream, but they will work day and night for it. They are the strugglers. They are the ones on a daily wage. They are the unsung heroes. Mollywood embodies this face of the industry without any veneer on top.

The star of the movie does not arrive in a Merc. He is a poor loom worker. The Director owns a garment store and constantly belittles his own profession. He maintains that this is a hobby, only a hobby. Any more, and you are inviting disappointment. The Star is excited to be part of this production, yet does not hesitate in helping the crew set up the set. In fact, come down to the gritty of it, and you see that these are people struggling to earn a daily bread. They can barely make ends meet. So why? Why are they doing this? That is one question that constantly haunts the audience throughout the documentary. What power does cinema have that it can generate a ‘cottage industry’, as critics have called it, in a society that can barely feed itself? Why are they doing this?

Maybe the answer to this lies deeper in the social make-up of their society.

Malegaon has had quite an interesting history. Malegaon was not always Malegaon. Once upon a time, it was little more than tiny hamlet known as Maliwadi. It was only in 1740, when a local Jahagirdar called Naro Shankar Raje Bahadur started building a fort in the area (which was a source of employment for both manual labourers and artisans) that Maliwadi started to grow in size. Since then, it has been both a shelter and a source of employment for the Muslim community whenever they have faced upheavals or reversals anywhere else. During the 1857 revolt, many Muslims from the North relocated to Malegaon. A famine in 1962, forced Muslim weavers from Varanasi to seek shelter in Malegaon. Similarly, political upheavals in the 1940s and the 1950s, communal riots in the 1960s have seen similar Muslim Migration to Malegaon from elsewhere. For the Muslim community, Malegaon has been their refuge.

But in recent times, things are changing. Malegaon is not a refuge anymore. It is the cause of their troubles. Originally a handloom weaving center, in 1935, Malegaon became the hub of power loom weaving. No doubt, in 1935, this was a cause of rejoicing for Malegaon. No doubt it increased their prosperity for then. But lately, a reluctance to move on to better technology added with frequent power cuts has pushed this industry to the brink of starvation. Most of India in the last century has seen an increase in prosperity with each coming generation. Malegaon has seen the opposite. The adults today, have seen prosperity as children, but despite the best of their efforts are unable to replicate it in their own lives. And with a lack of exposure to the outside world, it is hard for them to conduce why this is happening.

Movies are an extremely new form or art, just above a hundred years old. And largely, we have seen, especially in India, that whenever society has gone through a depressive phase, whenever unemployment has soared, whenever per capita income has dipped, the movie industry has boomed. It is not hard to understand why.

Movies provide us with an avenue to a fantastical world. To a world where anything can happen, a world where the demons are vanquished and the bravehearted wins. To a world where dreams come true. The world of movies is indeed a beautiful one. And in times of trouble, we have often turned to them for comfort. Keeping this in mind, it should be of no surprise that the citizens of Malegaon also turned to movies in times of distress. But what is surprising is that they didn’t just stick with watching movies, but also decided to pick up the camera and make some on their own.

Why? To answer that question is hard. But undoubtedly, this signifies an acceptance of responsibility towards one’s circumstances and the will to put things right. However, fear gets in the way.

The Director, Nasir Shaikh is constant in discouraging others from going down this route. There is no future here in filmmaking, he says. It is fine as a hobby but as a career can only lead to disappointment. He himself holds on to filmmaking as a simple part time hobby, nothing more, nothing less. This brings in a very interesting dichotomy in their manner of thinking. They dare to dream, but only so much. Beyond that, no more.

Not only do they dare to dream, but they lend us the hope to dream to. A community which, despite all odds can go ahead and make movies (no unremarkable feat) must be a truly utopic community, we feel, as they viewer. A community that shows us that nothing is impossible must be balanced and liberal, far from the borders of gender, race, religion and ethnicity. But in that, their reality is truly limited. In Mollywood, women do not work, neither as actresses, nor as crew members. Women are expected to stay at home because as one interviewee said, what can be greater than maintaining a household? The city, sadly is also very divided among communal lines. Sitting on the confluence of Mausam and the Girna rivers, on one side of the river live the Muslims, while on the other side of the river live the Hindus. The Hindus do not cross over to the Muslim side, nor do the Muslims cross over to the Hindu side.

In that, it really is not very different from the rest of the country. It is just as misogynistic and communal. But despite all its fallacies, Mollywood still lends a ray of hope. It shows a changing society. It shows a generation that wants to go further, much further than their forefathers did. And that can only be a good thing.

The Simple Truth About Bajrangi Bhaijaan

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Once upon a time, there was a young man. His name was Rajesh Khanna. But that wasn’t all that he was known as. He was also ‘The Phenomenon’ or ‘India’s First Superstar’. It all just depended on whom you asked. The merest mention of him had girls swooning, slitting their own wrists, writing him letters in blood. Then, just as suddenly as it came, the star died, leaving behind a shell of a man. Never again, thought most. Never again will we see such mass hysteria again.

Then came Salman Khan.

17th July 2015, a movie was released. The name of the movie was Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Written by Vijayendra Prasad. Directed by Kabir Khan. Starring Salman Khan. Today, Bajrangi Bhaijaan will have completed six promising weeks on the big screen.

The premise was promising. The story was that of a little six year old mute Pakistani girl, Shahida (played by Harshaali Malhotra) who gets lost in India. Confused, lost and hungry, she comes across a simple minded devotee of Lord Ganesh, Pawan, fondly known to everyone as Bajrangi who now makes it his life’s mission to take Shahida, or Munni, as he calls her, back to her village in Pakistan.

Truth be told, that is a beautiful premise. But the movie itself was something else.

Anurag Kashyap (of Dev.D and Gangs of Wasseypur fame) once said that the Indian Film Industry is steeped in mediocrity. Through this essay, what I’d like to explore the co-relation between this mediocrity and a mega-star movie. And this I’d like to do by studying one movie in particular; Bajrangi Bhaijaan.

When I went to watch Bajrangi Bhaijaan recently, the one thing that really struck out to me was the obvious enjoyment of the family sitting beside me. We hadn’t gotten the best seats, but maybe that was for the best, because that way, we got to watch it with the masses, the real audience towards whom the film is aimed. We were seated beside a very large family. And boy, did they enjoy the movie or what. They laughed at all the right places. They cried at all the right places. Even though I couldn’t feel any sort of a connection or relation with the movie, I couldn’t deny one simple fact; the movie had worked. And that is the dichotomy that thoroughly puzzles me. Because cinematically, the movie is below mediocre. So how can a movie that is so terribly made touch so many hearts?

And here I thought that Bajrangi Bhaijaan was all about a lost little girl

And here I thought that Bajrangi Bhaijaan was all about a lost little girl

Similar to Mad Max: Fury Road, Bajrangi Bhaijaan completely ignores its protagonist, focusing instead at a supporting character masquerading as a protagonist. If you went to watch a movie about a little lost girl’s tumultuous journey through a strange land and how she makes her way back home, helped by a kind soul, you would be very disappointed. Because, that, is not what Bajrangi Bhaijaan is. Bajrangi Bhaijaan is no Ramchand Pakistani (a 2008 movie about a 7 year old Pakistani boy who accidentally crosses the border into India). Bajrangi Bhaijaan is a through and through Salman Khan movie.

To clarify, the movie might be about Shahida, or it might be about Pawan(Salman Khan’s character), but none of them are the true protagonist (or ‘hero’, in layman terms) of the movie. The movie has only one hero, Salman Khan. Take the first song, for example, Selfie Lele Re. Shahida has just gotten lost, boarded the wrong train and has landed in the middle of a very crowded Kurukshetra. From a storytelling point of view, this would have been the perfect opportunity to showcase the little girl’s bewilderment and despair. One little girl lost in a sea of people. That’s perfect! But no, how could they? This is also our hero, Salman Khan’s entrance! And how can a hero enter without any pomp and splendor? Thus, Shahida is ignored and Mr. Khan goes around taking selfies with every one.

Cut to the journey back home with Shahida. Pawan still doesn’t know where Shahida is from, so he’s going to take her back to his home in Delhi. During this bus journey, we learn about Pawan’s backstory through a flashback describing how he met his fiancée (played by Kareena Kapoor). Structurally, this is classic. It is very remnant of the way our epics are structured. But for a three hour movie, this is inefficient. It comes down to that one cardinal rule; when you have limited resources, you do not waste any. Had it been any other film, this inefficiency would not have been missed by the audience. But here, not only is it overlooked, it is forgiven and even enjoyed.

Frankly speaking, the audience is not stupid, just starstruck. They are willing to forgive almost anything just to watch their hero achieve the impossible. The level of incredulity in a movie, in fact, seems to be directly proportional to the loyalty of the star’s fan following.

I emphasise on the loyalty of the fan following here because just being a star does not provide you with immunity against the viewer’s ire. You must be a certain kind of a star. Shahrukh Khan and Aamir Khan are also stars of equal caliber with similar numbers in their fan following. Arguably, Shahrukh Khan rakes in more, financially than Salman Khan. He has been the richest actor in the world. And Aamir Khan definitely rakes more respect, especially among the educated middle and upper middle classes. But had either of them done this film the way it was done, the audience would not have accepted it. It takes a certain kind of star to do that. It takes a deified star to do that.

One of the main reasons the other Khans are not so deified is because they cater to a completely different audience group, namely the educated middle and the upper classes. Salman Khan is the common man’s hero. The only common man’s hero. He has built himself on that. Therefore, to understand the dynamics of how such films work, we must look at the aspirations and social conditions of the non-educated middle and the lower classes(or, the masses, as we will call them through the rest of the article, for the sake of convenience). We must realize that these people occupy a completely different world to ours. And they simply make up the largest demographic in the country. Catering to them is an obvious and brilliant marketing tool.

Fact is, while the rest of the country has forged ahead, these masses seem to have been left behind, both figuratively and literally. Economically, the country might be at an all time high. We have one of the highest GDPs in the world. We are part of the G20. But we are also one of the most populated countries in the world. With a population of over 1.2 billion people, the country’s resources and earnings are just not enough for everyone to move ahead together. As it is, capitalism forces us to depend on trickle down (which is one of the slowest and most inefficient ways of distributing resources). But an unlimited number of people competing for a limited amount of resources forces an already slow trickle down effect even further, therefore pushing the masses to remain stuck in a post-colonial rut, both financially and mentally.

Tired after a whole day’s vigor, they come to watch movies not just to be entertained, but also to escape. They want to escape to a world where anything is possible, and for that, they are willing to forgive any storytelling faux pas. A fact that Shakespeare made use of back in the 16th century, Salman Khan is making use of in the 21st century. History does indeed repeat itself. It’s no magic that Salman Khan is so well loved (that we are even willing to forgive him murder) or that his seemingly mindless movies do so well. It is just brilliant marketing. It’s pure business. You give the audience what they want. And the majority does not want elitist art. They don’t want flawless storytelling. In fact, it is not even entertainment that they are looking for. They want hope. They want to live in a world where even a simple common idiot like Pawan (in Bajrangi Bhaijaan) can achieve the impossible. And in that, Bajrangi Bhaijaan is definitely successful. In fact, it is idiots like us who go around looking for art.

Financials can change. As India rises further, the financial aspect will change. The masses will be pulled out of this post-colonial rut, at least financially. But that need to escape from reality is innate. That is not likely to go anytime soon. We’ll be watching Dabangg and Bajrangi Bhaijaan for a long time indeed.

Have a great Sunday!

Have a great Sunday

Finding Freedom – After 68 Years of Independence

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It is the 69th Independence Day! We have now been an independent country for 68 whole years! 68 years since the Tryst With Destiny!

PM Nehru addresses the nation from the Red Fort, 15h August 1947

PM Nehru addresses the nation from the Red Fort, 15h August 1947

But sometimes, I wonder, in these 68 years, have we forgotten the very meaning of freedom? I know I sound cliched. But this morning, when I woke up, I woke up to a loudspeaker loudly playing patriotic sounds. I woke up to a loud rambling of ‘Mere Desh Ki Dharti’, playing well above the allowed decibel limit. I went and closed my windows, trying to block the noise. But no. The noise was so loud that it just wouldn’t be blocked. Soon enough, I developed a headache and couldn’t help but feel extremely sorry for all the babies and elderly in the area. Celebrating at the cost of someone else’s convenience, that is not independence.

I remember the Independence Days of my childhood. I would go to school, there would be a flag hoisting, well meant speeches that we would inevitably sleep through, sweets and candies distributed and the rest of the day off. The only reason I looked forward to Independence Day was because I would have half a day off from school. That is not independence.

Skip to midday, my maid came. She went about her daily routine, sweeping, mopping, washing the dishes, dusting. It was just another day for her. She is a working mother, she has three kids in high school. Making ends meet itself is a struggle for her. Grumble about her as I might, she probably works harder than I ever have. She doesn’t even get weekends off. And struggle as she might, things probably will not change much for her, not in this lifetime. That is not independence.

But then, flip the coin over and you can see a whole new picture. All those things that I just said are not independence, that is exactly what is independence.

Confused, aren’t you? So am I.

Google describes independence as ‘The fact or state of being independent, self governance, autonomy, freedom, liberty’. But that is such a relative thing.

Waking up to a loud rambling of ‘Mere Desh ki Dharti’ was something that curbed my freedom. But getting that shut (if that was possible) would curb their freedom too, because celebrating with loud music is their way of expressing their independence.

Going to school for a flag hoisting, boring speeches and yummy candies might not have taught me anything about what independence is. But having the rest of the day off and having to juggle that between leftover homework and playing with friends sure did. Running around, playing with the other kids was our way of expressing our independence.

Working to her bones without a day off might not be freedom for my domestic help. But watching her kids go through high school and seeing them having a better future, living her life vicariously through theirs, that is an expression of independence. We are not always born with a silver spoon, but aspiring for bigger and better things is an expression of independence.

And any act of expressing independence is independence in itself.

So are we truly free? Well, that completely depends on the lens that you are looking at the world through.

On that note, here is some food for thought, a video from last year, asking Indians where they can find freedom. Enjoy!

The Misunderstood Genius

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Someone said to me recently, “You have to be crazy to be in this industry”

Let me add the context.

I had just started work as an AD for a production. It was lunch time. Time to sit back and relax. A TV actor was visiting. We got into a conversation. He asked me where I was from etc, I told him about NYFA, MIWW etc. Just a nice boring conversation.

Then he asked me how work was over here, at this production.

Laughing, I answered, “Hectic, Crazy!”

He laughed and answered back, “ Well, you have to be crazy to be in this industry!”

That rang a bell. That’s not the first time I’ve heard that.

You have to be crazy to be in this industry.

That’s practically a mantra!

Why?

Why do I have to be crazy to join this industry? I don’t want to be crazy. I’m not crazy. I’m just normal. And I want a normal life. All those things that you aspire that your software engineering job at Google will get you? That’s exactly what I want as well. No craziness, thank you very much. Just a simple life.

Then why on earth do I have to be crazy to join this industry?

It has always been said that the greatest artists have been crazy. In other words, you have to be crazy to be an artist. Take a stock of those names, Van Gogh obviously tops that list, followed closely by Sylvia Plath. Looking at more recent names, there’s Marilyn Monroe, Lars Von Trier, Michael Jackson, Rajesh Khanna and Stanley Kubrick among others.

Success, in any field, comes after a lot struggle. The arts are no different. However, in popular culture, success also means immediate overnight stardom, in a lot of cases. Whether you’re a writer, artist, singer, actor, whatever! Success is extreme. Overnight, you have kids lining up in front of your front door just waiting for one glimpse of you. Overnight, you have papparazi stalking you, dishing out parts of your life that even you didn’t know about. Everyone looks up to you. Suddenly, you’re everyone’s role model! Everyone worships you!

It’s hard, really hard, to not let that go to your head. It’s hard, after all this, to stay humble and grounded. It is only natural, after all this, to even grow extra critical of yourself in an attempt to keep yourself grounded, to just maintain that balance. With time, you just start punishing yourself and your self esteem is at an all time low.

Or you take the other route and you let it go to your head. Within no time, you’re directionless, lost and stuck in a world where your word is the law, for the moment at least.

Either way, craziness.

But there is also another side to the whole argument.

In a country like India, where engineering and medicine seem to be the only acceptable career choices, no one wants their child to grow up to be an artist. While I have been extremely lucky with this acceptance, not many people are. When I first moved to Mumbai, usually, the first question I would be asked was, ‘And how does your family feel about you joining this profession?” And they would be very surprised when my answer was positive. But I am the minority! Following your dream usually means going against every societal norm. And I cannot imagine that’s easy. Not only does that take a lot of courage and strength, it also takes a strong conviction that this is it for you. This is what you need your life to be. The operative word there, being need, not ‘want’. That ‘need’ can even border on obsession.

With that, it is extremely easy to get into the whole mindset of , ‘its you against the world’. It just feels so much better if you romanticize it. The ‘misunderstood genius’ is a phenomenon that is just way too common. I find them at every street corner. Sometimes, fighting so hard to do just what you enjoy doing comes with a sense of entitlement, “Why am I not getting the break that I deserve?”.  We hear so many stories of overnight success that we start expecting them too, “If it can happen to someone else, why can’t it happen to me? Why is the world against me?”

The ‘misunderstood genius’ phenomenon is just way too common. You can find them, literally, at every street corner. This is not to say, however, that they are not talented. It is just that they expect so much more in such a short amount of time.

In layman terms, that’s just crazy.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You shouldn’t have to be crazy just to try making your living doing what you enjoy. You have a right to your sanity!

But that’s only going to happen if we, as a society, start accepting non-traditional careers also. That’s only going to happen when the stigma of being a non-science student disappears. That’s only going to happen if we accept alternate career options as equally valid. You don’t have to be a misunderstood genius. Just being a genius will do.

Being the Bad Guy

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I happened to watch a video today, on Youtube. An old video. From 2011. But nevertheless relevant even today. It is called “Kids React to Osama Bin Laden’s Death”. And it is just what the title says it is. A bunch of kids reacting to the news of Bin Laden’s death.

Most commonly, the reaction is that of elation and joy. The kids were happy that evil had been wiped out, that justice had been served. But then they were asked how they felt about the fact that the entire country was out on the streets celebrating his death. That gave the kids something to think about. But still, the most common reaction was elation and joy. Evil, after all, is dead!

But one boy had a different outlook. He said, “I was happy that our nation felt pride. That’s…good, but I’m…um..not cheery because it’s still a man’s life. A bad man’s life, but it’s still life”.

From time immemorial, we are taught about how the world is divided into good and evil. Good always wins. Bad loses. Bad deserves to be killed. And when that happens, we must rejoice. Isn’t that the whole idea behind some of our most important festivals? Holi, for example, rejoices over the death of Hiranyakashipu, never mind that Narasimha killed him in such an inhumane manner. Diwali rejoices over the death of Ravana, never mind that whatever he did, however misguided and unethical it was, he was only driven by his love for his baby sister. Not that it justifies his actions, but it does help us understand him better. And in that light, how was what Rama did any better or worse?

Or lets go further back in time; the Devas and the Asuras. We learn from our mythology that the Devas were the good guys and the Asuras were evil. Thus the Devas won. But do we know that in the older forms of the Avesta, the Asuras were the good guys and the Devas are the bad guys?

Fact is, history is written by the victors. No one else. However unlikely it might seem now, if Al Qaida had won, they would have painted themselves as the good guys. And anyone opposing them would have been evil. And that would have been ‘factual history’. After all, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

But that doesn’t feel right. It feels almost blasphemous to think that way. To imagine that Hitler would have been ‘The good guy’ if had won the war. No, that just feels wrong.

But what’s wrong is our definition of good and evil. What’s wrong is that we teach our kids about the good guys and the bad guys. There are no good guys. And there are no bad guys! There are only actions! Perhaps we ought to remember that. Actions! Good actions. Bad actions. Grey actions.

And then maybe, just maybe, we will enable our kids to create a better world for themselves than what we have been able to create for ourselves.

 

Writing, for me…

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Writing is something that I have done for the majority of my life. I wrote my first story when I was six years old. “The Mystery of the Missing Vase”, I believe it was called. I started working on a novel when I was 12. I called it, “Revenge of the Ants”. Never got around to finishing it. The drafts are still lying about somewhere in my old notebooks.

I am, what I would call, a born writer. Whether I am good at it or bad is for you to decide, but it is something that I always fall back on. It is just something I do. I eat, I drink, I sleep and I write. It’s as simple as that. But it is only now that I have started to accept that, to enjoy it even. I didn’t always like writing.

When I was in school, I had a brilliant English teacher. She is the one who taught me to enjoy literature. I did hated that attention at times, because she would single me out sometimes and ask me to read a certain book or an anthology of poems. I used to resent that. I used to resent the fact that it was only me who was asked to do this. I never understood the value of that extra attention. She also encouraged me to write, and to write more, as did my parents. I never understood the value of that. It is only today that I do. It is only today that I thank her for her seemingly thankless task.

Well, I was a teenager. I was a rebel. I didn’t want to be told what to do. I just wanted to do what I wanted to do at that moment. Even if it meant watching Hum Aapke Hai Kaun one day before my Maths board exam. Oh yes, I did that. And don’t think that I had studied for it beforehand and was just trying to relax before an exam. I hadn’t. It’s a miracle I even passed!

Writing went the same way. I resented people telling me that I should be a writer. I just didn’t want anyone to say anything to me. I just wanted to be left alone. Ah well! Teenage!

But, even then, sometimes, I would find myself writing in my diary or working on a new idea for a story or an article. It was dichotomous, always. I wanted it, but I didn’t want it. All at the same time.

Here, in film school, we are expected to do a fair share of writing, all screenplays mainly.  And I have spent a lot of time observing my friends write. They write a draft, then write a second draft, then a third, then a fourth and so on and so forth. By the time they reach their final draft, the story, the structure, everything will have completely changed. But for me, it has never been like that. My first or second draft is usually my final draft that I am happy with.

I used to question why? I used question whether it is just that I am lazy? Am I just trying to escape from work? So, this time, for my year one thesis film, I decided to work harder on my script. I tried doing multiple drafts. But I couldn’t go beyond the third draft. As soon as I reached my third draft, that was it. I didn’t want to change it anymore. I was perfectly happy with it.

That set me thinking…why? Finally, today, I reached an answer. I finally know why. I realized that unlike my classmates, I don’t get to work with a pen and paper. Writing is something that I’m doing constantly in my head. I keep thinking about it. I keep revising it. I keep re-writing it in my head. By the time I actually get to putting it down on paper, I’ll have gone through several drafts in my head. That is why my first or second draft is usually my last draft. Finally, mystery solved.

Today, writing is just something I do. No, actually, its not just something I do. It is something that I enjoy doing as well. When I’m writing, I forget everything around me, I lose track of what’s happening. I just immerse myself in what I typing out on my laptop. For me, it’s like meditation. You know how you’re never supposed to let anything divert you when you are meditating. I could never do that. I struggle to do that when I try to meditate in the traditional form of meditation. But when I write, it just happens. All my thoughts focus on just one thing.

And that is what, I guess, writing is to me!

Modern, is it?

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Aren’t you glad you live in the enlightened 21st century? You have telephones, internet, Facebook, Twitter, and best of all, enlightened knowledge! We know now that the world is composed of matter. That everything, but everything is made of atoms. We have progressive modern medicine, although we don’t yet have a cure for common cold, but hey, we do have antibiotics! We know that the earth is round and that it is the earth that revolves around the sun, not the other way round. We know why things fall to the earth and why people in Australia don’t fall off the face of earth entirely ( Thank you, Sir Isaac Newton). Seriously, what all don’t we know? We even know how to create weapons that will wipe out an entire portion of the human population. Hell, we did that already in the Second World War!

Don’t you look back to the far past and pity them for not knowing all this? Don’t you look back to the Greeks and laugh at them for thinking that the earth is flat? Don’t you look back to Chanakya and wonder how he managed to walk 2000 km, even though it took him six months to do so? Don’t you look back to the middle ages and shake your heads at their primitive medicine unable to handle plague?

I think we all do, at some point or the other. Seriously, how many times have you said, “Wow, I’m glad I live in the 21st century”.

But, is all that knowledge that we have really all that modern? Let’s analyze it. Let’s start with gravity.

We’ve all learnt in school that it was Sir Isaac Newton who discovered Gravity. So, he was just sitting about one day and Bam! An apple falls on his head and as he’s munching on it(I’m presuming he was, i know I would if an apple fell on my head), eureka! Inspiration! And Gravity is born.

Umm…not quite so! Textbooks need to revise their knowledge. Newton didn’t discover gravity, he only rediscovered it.

In the 3rd Century BC, Archimedes first said that there is a certain force that holds things together not only on earth, but throughout the universe. We are all subject to that force, and that force is nothing but Gravity. Archimedes showed that the torque exerted on a lever by weights resting at various points along the lever is the same as what it would be if all of the weights were moved to a single point — their center of mass.

Nearly a thousand years later, in 597 AD, Brahmagupta was born in what is today the state of Rajasthan, India. Well into his adulthood in the 7th century AD, he had a bit to say about the same subject too, “All things fall to the Earth by law of nature; for it is the nature of the Earth to attract and keep things”. Whether or not Brahmagupta was aware of Archimides’s theory is something that I have no idea about. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. I don’t know.

Then came along Newton in the 17th century, basically saying the exact same thing that these two guys had been saying all along! Yet he is credited for ‘discovering’ Gravity. No doubt he discovered it, on a personal level. And his further research on the subject is invaluable for modern physicists. But on a larger scale, he didn’t discover it. He rediscovered it and refined it further.

When it comes to Vedic knowledge or the epics, people are always eager to go overboard. Brahmasthra is translated into a nuclear weapon, Ravana’s Pushpaka Vimana is translated by the tamest as forerunner to the modern airplane and by the wildest as a UFO(a UFO, really?). We forget that these, especially the Ramayana and Mahabharata are works of literature rather than a physics or history textbook. I mean, you don’t watch Star Wars and come out believing in an intergalactic battle, do you? You don’t read Life of Pi and believe that Pi found a carnivorous island near Madagascar that had never been seen before and was never seen since. You don’t start believing in Richard Parker as a God in an avatar who came down just to save Pi, do you?

It’s exactly the same thing here. But yet there is no denying that the vedas (rather than the epics) contain a lot of knowledge which I’m not sure we have exploited to the fullest, and nor have we given credit.

When Robert Oppenheimer developed the atomic bomb and it was successfully tested in New Mexico, he was asked, “Was the bomb exploded at Alamogordo during the Manhattan project the first one to be detonated?”, he replied, “Well – yes, in modern times of course”.

Conspiracy theorists take this along with his interest in Vedic literature and his first words as the first bomb was detonated, “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one. Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” which is a phrase from the Bhagvad Gita, and jump to the conclusion that the Brahmasthra was an atomic bomb.

Was it really? Somehow, I highly doubt it.

But there is absolutely no doubt that our ancestors knew much more that we give them credit for. The atom, for instance, we credit to the Greeks. But what about the “Anu”? Anu is nothing but the Sanskrit name for an atom. So who discovered it? The Ancient Greeks or the Ancient Indians? Well, its not exactly a race, so I’m going to say both, since both these discoveries happened around approximately the same time period. A few thousands of years later came leptons and quarks and what nots. But all that wouldn’t have been possible without the first basic discovery of the atom, or the anu.

Oppenheimer knew that. That is why he buried himself in Greek and Indian literature. And that probably expains his quotation from the Bhagvad Gita, rather than the Brahmasthra being an atomic weapon.

So how modern is our knowledge, really? Whatever we call modern is drawn upon knowledge that is ancient. Without ancient knowledge, modern knowledge would be impossible. It is a collective work. It isn’t one person’s work or even one lifetime’s. It is a collective and continuous work that has been going on for thousands of years and will be continued on for thousands of years. So do we really have the right to call it “modern” knowledge, to call it “modern” technology? Are we robbing our ancestors of their contribution by calling it modern? Because “modern” implies that it is all ours, not theirs.

It is just a matter of careful wording, rather like chairperson vs chairman or police officer vs policeman. But maybe it is high time we thought carefully about the words we use. Maybe it is high time we gave our ancestors credit for their invaluable research without which our present research would have been non-existent.

This time tomorrow…I’ll be missing Bombay

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This time tomorrow…I’ll be in New York, NYC, The Big Apple…whatever you want to call it. Point is, I’ll be there, leaving behind Bombay for two whole years. Well, I will be back in the middle quite a few times, whenever I have time, but it won’t be my home. Not for the next two years anyway. I’m going to miss Bombay.

Yes, I call it Bombay, not Mumbai. Somehow I just can’t bring myself to call it Mumbai. Since my childhood, I’ve always called it Bombay. I don’t care what the Shiv Sena say or the MNS. For me, it will always be Bombay.

I’m relatively new to Bombay, I just moved there four years ago, as a struggling actor. When I first set foot into it, I didn’t like it. It was crowded, dirty, unorganized, dusty and terribly humid, thanks to its proximity to the sea. I hated it. But I felt that I would have to learn to tolerate it. This is where the whole film fraternity of India exists. This is the heart of Bollywood. I would have to learn to tolerate it. And I did. I just didn’t imagine I would fall in love with the city as well!

Bombay was the place I really grew up. I was eighteen by the time I moved there, an adult for all legal purposes. But not actually. Inside, I was still a teenage high schooler. It was Bombay that helped me make that transition between teenager and adult.

Bombay was where I fell in love, for the first time ever. I’d had boyfriends earlier, through high school, but I’d never been in love. Bombay was where the big L word happened to me. I knew now for the first time ever how it felt to be part of someone else’s life and to have that someone else be such an integral part of my life. I knew now for the first time ever what those romance novels meant when they said, “He made me go weak in my knees”

Bombay was where I had my first heartbreak. It was as soon as I told my ex that I loved him. He didn’t love me back.

Bombay was where I discovered that life is not a fairy tale. At least not in the way we are taught to dream about. Life doesn’t hand you things on a golden platter. It makes you earn them.

Bombay was where I learnt to dream. I’d had dreams earlier. But I didn’t know how to work towards them. I didn’t know how to make those dreams work for me. Now I do.

Bombay was where I learnt how to control my tears. It was during a fashion show. I’d forgotten my nude strapless bra in my hotel room. Everyone was terribly stressed, we were running behind schedule. When I told the designer (who, ironically enough, is a good friend today) that I needed to go up to my room to get that essential thing, I got screamed at…in front of everyone. It was nothing, just stress…today I would understand that. But to a newcomer, its humiliating.

Bombay was where I discovered how kind people can be. Even as the designer was screaming at me, the make up artist quietly came up, put a hand on my shoulder supportively and said to the designer, “She’ll just take five minutes, won’t you, darling?” he added turning to me. I just managed to nod dumbly at the two of them

Bombay was where I had my first big failure. I was thrown out of a movie, the movie I had counted on to be my first big break.

Bombay was where I had my first big success. I landed a job as an Assistant Editor at ACK Media, the publishing house that publishes Tinkle. Those of you who live in India, you’ll know how big this was.

For all this…I thank Bombay.

But what I thank Bombay for the most is for introducing me to filmmaking. Filmmaking has opened up a whole new avenue in my life. It has given me a new purpose to life. Today, it is even taking me to New York, to New York Film Academy. Next year, it will take me to Los Angeles, for the second year of my masters degree. The next year, it will bring me back home, to Bombay, hopefully then as an independent filmmaker. Without it, I’d still be waking up in the morning and wondering, “Right…so what do I do today?”

5 To-Read Memoirs

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Just a few days ago, I came across a lovely blog post. This blog post was by Susie Meserve, and it was called Must-Read Memoirs. It even made the WordPress Freshly Pressed list. The commentators, including me, added their own favorites to the list, which has now been listed under a separate blog post, Readers’ Pick Memoirs, which features 92 books. Combined with the original list, that’s a list of a 100 books. Now, my first instinct was to go out and buy all hundred books. But that’s not reasonable, is it? That’s got to be out of my budget, right? Hey, that’s got to be out of anyone’s budget! So what I’m going to do is that I’m going to wittle down that list to just five books (tough task, I know..phew!). And the next time I go shopping, those five books will definitely be on my shopping list. Well, here goes:

  5. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I had started reading this book ages ago when I was a preteen. I had read about fifty pages and put it back down god knows what reason. One of these days, I would love to pick it up again and read it all the to the end.

 4. Some Girls: My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren. I hadn’t heard of this book until it was listed on Susie’s blog. But it sounded interesting so I looked it up on Goodreads. And I fell for it. So I’ve got to read it.

3. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Yes, I know, I still haven’t read it, despite it being a bestseller and all! Well, now I’ve heard so much praise for this book, I just hope it live’s up to my expectations. I guess there’s only one way to find out.

  2. My Life By Marlene Dietrich. It’s Marlene Dietrich! Need I say anymore? I didn’t think so!

  1. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. Ok, this one has been on my to-read list for years! I can’t believe I still haven’t gotten around to it! I have read ‘Tis by the same author and ever since, I have been lusting after this book. I’ll get around to it soon…I hope…

The Show Must Go On

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Three years ago, I was very new to the fashion industry (in many ways, I still am). I had just managed to land my first ever fashion ramp show and I was terribly excited. And I was scared too! It wasn’t being on stage that scared me. Nope! I’d been performing on stage since I was five years old. I was after all a trained dancer in Bharathnatyam and Kathak and I had also done my A levels in Drama and Theatre Studies. Being on stage wasn’t something that scared me anymore. What scared me was Lubna Adams.

For those of you who don’t have much to do with the Indian Fashion Industry, Lubna Adams is one of the premier ramp choreographers of India. She is a legend. She also has a reputation of being quite the task master. She is a perfectionist. If she doesn’t get what she needs from you for the show, she isn’t one to mince her words. I heard Miss Universe 1994, Sushmita Sen say once that Lubna had driven her to tears a few times when she was an upcoming model in the 90s. She wasn’t exaggerating.

No wonder I was scared then.

Rehearsals started, fittings took place, everything was ready for the final show. And it was a big show, to be conducted across four major cities in India; New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkatta. After all, it was a L’oreal show introducing their new range of hair colors, Inoa into the Indian Market! I was a nervous wreck. I was just finding out then that catwalk is not something that comes easily to me. I’m a good dancer, I’m a good actor…but catwalk…uhm…well, not exactly my cup of tea! I had fumbled through rehearsals, I kept forgetting my entries, my turns, I slouched, failed to tuck my tummy in, failed to keep my knees straight in four inch heels, tripped…the list was endless. I’m sure I really tested Lubna’s patience.

Now today was the show. I had just been told that I was the one who had to start the show. I had the first entry. The pressure was mounting. I didn’t want to mess up. I couldn’t afford to mess up! I was a struggler. This was my first break and what a break it was! I was working with some the finest in the nation. I just couldn’t afford to mess up.

The curtain was raised (metaphorically) and the first few beats of the music that we were supposed to walk to started. I took a deep breath, mustered all the attitude I could muster  and took a step forward, out of the shadows. I stepped into the main archway to the center stage and suddenly something went wrong. One moment, I was up in the air and the next, I was flat on the ground! I had slipped and fallen! I had done the unthinkable. But what happened next was the hilarious part. I didn’t feel humiliated and wonder what all the audience must be thinking of me. I didn’t think, ” Oh shit, this hurts! (I had fallen pretty hard on my butt”. No!

The first thought that came into my mind was,” Oh Shit! Lubna is going to Kill me!!!!!!!”

(Luckily for me, Lubna, sitting in the sound booth right across the hall, didn’t see me fall. The lights hadn’t come up completely yet and I was still half in the shadows. No one in the audience had been able to see me. And it helped, of course, that I immediately stood up and continued my walk down the runway as though nothing had happened. Thanks to that, no one, except those backstage, knew what had really happened).

I felt like writing about this because recently, while I was going through some earlier Miss Universe pageants on YouTube, I saw something similar happen to Miss USA 2007, Rachel Smith. During the evening gown round, she slipped and fell flat on the ground. The same thing happened next year as well to Crystle Stewart (who was also Miss USA). These girls weren’t as lucky as me. Not only did this happen to them on a much bigger stage, it was also recorded and played  over and over again by various news channels all over the world. Compared to my hundreds (and maybe not even those) millions of people saw it happen. On top of it, it was the Miss Universe competition where even a tiny mistake (or accident, in this case) can cost you your crown. I can only imagine how excruciatingly hard  it must have been for these girls.

But what amazed me was how unfazed these girls were by it. There was a momentary shock, of course but they recovered, smiled at their clumsiness and carried on! Kudos to both of them. What they did takes a lot of courage to do. It might have been Riyo Mori and Dayana Mendoza who won the title and crown of Miss Universe in 2007 and 2008 respectively, but to me…it will always be Rachel Smith and Crystle Stewart who are the ultimate winners. The show, after all…must go on!

Taming the monsters

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I have been reading so much lately about children ‘misbehaving’ in restaurants and supermarkets and how they need to be ‘tamed’. Tamed? Really? What are they? Performing monkeys? Seriously, what will you have them do next? Jumps through the hoops? Or learn to heel ? Because that’s what tamed means to me! And somehow, correct me if I’m wrong, but somehow, I really don’t think that that is what most parents dream of for their children!

Now, I’m not a parent. Not yet anyway. Nor am I some award winning child psychologist. But it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that what you think is a relaxing evening out at the city’s poshest restaurant is really something that bores the hell out of your child! A child needs active stimuli to keep him/her engaged, and all that grown up talk about what Chidambaram said about the devaluation of the rupee or whether Romney or Obama is going to win the election just doesn’t cut it for a child. Shocking, I know! But lets face it, even I fall asleep half the time during such discussions, so can you really blame the child for trying bang the plate with a spoon in order to entertain himself/herself? Hey, I totally would do so myself, if only i had the courage and don’t care attitude that a child does!

I remember, in fact, one incident from my own childhood. We were at a fancy restaurant. Dinner was over and they had brought out the finger bowls. Now, I was in a ‘naughty’ mood. And I was bored. So I finished washing my hands, picked up a tissue, wiped my hands with it and proceeded to attempt dissolving the tissue in the finger bowl. And guess what? No one, repeat, No One, not the guests, nor the hotel staff seemed to mind. In fact, people came forward to help me accomplish what is scientifically an impossible task. And why should they mind? I wasn’t hurting anyone.

Now coming to supermarkets. Hey, as an adult, you have just no idea how much fun supermarkets can be. Just look at the trolleys. They just scream adventure! The child doesn’t know yet that anything that goes so fast can be dangerous too, not to mention the old lady with arthritis around the corner aisle whom you might accidentally knock over. Did you know all this when you were five? I though not. You learnt it over time. So why do you expect your child to just know it and to behave accordingly? If he/she did know all that, he/she wouldn’t be a child! He/she would be 40 years old. And that kinda takes the fun out of childhood, doesn’t it?

Now, I firmly believe that the whole ‘good old days’ thing is a myth. Human beings have not genetically evolved in the last 30000 years, so the fact that the previous generation was any different than us, as is many times suggested, is highly unlikely. But lately, I find myself thinking that maybe, just maybe, our parents’ generation were better with children, more tolerant on many levels. They were more accepting of the fact that children are children, not some kind of automatons. We were dragged around everywhere with our parents. And yes, we were bored. And yes, we would inevitably get up to some kinda mischief or the other. But it didn’t kill us. I, my friends, all the people I grew up with are sensible, successful adults with our heads screwed on quite properly. And yes, we learnt a hell of a lot on those social outings.

There has been a trend lately to exclude children from events. Wedding invitations are issued in which is clearly stated that children are not welcome. Why? Are they no longer part of our families and lives? Why this discrimination? Why are we treating children like they are a different species which are somehow inferior to us? Events like weddings, or funerals are family events and it is unethical to exclude any member of the family from it just because they happen to be two feet tall. Also, if you exclude children from such social events, how will they ever learn what acceptable social behavior is? And then you complain that your kid just doesn’t know how to behave in public!

Wake up, darlings! No one comes out of the womb already knowing everything there is to know. It takes time to learn the ways of the world!!

BTW, it was this link that got me thinking.

Going, Going, Gone

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I guess you’ve all heard about the petrol prices increasing. They just went up by Rs. 7 starting today. That means I’m going to have to shell out another Rs 200 per week to keep the tank full. Oh well! I’ve been getting all these jokes too on BBM  lately about the price hike:

1. Petrol Pump attendant: Kitne ka daaloon?

Biker: 2-4 rupaiye ka bike pe spray kar de. Bike jalani hai

2. Harbhajan to Dhoni: Yaar main ye match jaanbooch kar haara!

Dhoni: Kyun?

Harbhajan: Yaar pata chala ki prize me ye log volkswagon dene wale hain! Who bhi petrol pe chalne wali!

But what took the cake was the public reaction yesterday. I was out with my cousin when he suddenly realized that his car is about run out of petrol. So we drove to the nearest petrol pump. And what do we see? People crowding and milling about the petrol station as if it’s the end of the world! As if petrol won’t be available at all from tomorrow.

My cousin turned to me and joked, “I guess they’re selling tickets to the ships that’ll save us when the end of the world hits. Let’s try someplace else”

So we decided to drive outside the city and try a petrol pump on the outskirts (I’m in Mysore at the moment, so driving outside the city is luckily possible. What did you think? I was attempting this in Mumbai? Ha!). But the one outside the city was even worse! It looked like the whole of Mysore had come up with the same bright idea that we had come up with. If we had decided to wait, it would have taken us 3 hrs easily, by which time, the meagre amount of petrol in the tank would have been used up and we’d have to push the car.

We decided to try another, farther away from the city. This one was even worse. We’d probably have to wait till midnight to be able to fill up our tank there.

Then we thought , why not go back to the city and try the Shell Petrol Pump. It’s a bit expensive which means there won’t be much of a crowd there. Well, luckily, this ‘bright idea’ of ours worked out. We waited 15 mins, filled up the tank and got out of there.

Now, if any of you readers own petrol pumps, I really want to know on thing. Just how much did you guys make yesterday? Any overnight millionaires? Hey, it sure looked like it!

Trolley Chor



Coming back from Kuwait, I had had an overnight journey, complete with a group of Arab women yakking in my year throughout the flight, so I couldn’t even go to sleep. So the last thing I was looking forward to really, was a completely chaotic airport.  I don’t know what the deal is with the Mumbai international airport, but lately, it has been an airport from hell. People trying to slither their way forward in the immigration queue, the harassed immigration officer destroying his vocal chords shouting, in vain obviously, to bring some order to the mess in front of him, offloading your multitude of bags from the baggage belt only to discover there are no trolleys for you to carry them on…that pretty much sums up the airport I stepped into.

And add to all this that group of Arab women. Now that was the ultimate cherry on the top.

I met these women first when I was checking in. The business class check in counter is normally not that crowded, but this time, it was. There was set of Arab women at the counter. They were there for checking in, of course, but it looked more like a reunion of friends who have not met in, say, centuries. There were quite a few people lining up behind them, politely waiting their turn to check in, but these women looked quite undisturbed by all that. They took their own sweet time.

They were a boisterous set. I turned to my Mom and said to her, no way I’ll be able to go to sleep on the plane today. She replied that maybe they’re going somewhere else! You don’t know where they’re going. I nodded , hoping she was right. I really needed my sleep, I had a dance lesson early next morning.

Suddenly, I heard my Dad calling me. He was standing there chatting to those women. I went over. And here is the conversation that followed next.

Dad: This is my daughter, she lives in Mumbai. She’ll be able to help you out.

Me (my worst fears confirmed): Oh, so you’re all going to Mumbai? For a holiday?

Arab Woman: Yes, we’ll be staying at the Taj

Me: Oh, that’s nice! Which Taj?

AW (turning to look at each other): Huh?

Me: There are two Tajs in Mumbai, Taj Land’s End and Taj President.

AW: No No No, the Taj, the Taj, the hotel!

Me: I know, its just that there are two of them-

AW: The hotel Taj! You know the hotel? Taj?

Me: Yes, well- Never mind! The Taj…lovely place to stay at!

AW: Yes. And we wanted to ask you what are to good places nearby to visit?

Me: To visit? There are quite a few places. There’s Haji Ali, The Victoria Albert Museum, The Prince of Wales Museum, The Ajanta Ellora caves-

AW: No No No! We want malls and restaurants!

Me(unable to believe my ears): Come again??

AW: Malls. And restaurants!

Me: Malls…and restaurants…??

AW: Malls and restaurants.

Me: Right…ahem…(while screaming inwardly all the time, you’re going all the way to India to visit some malls and restaurants??? Isn’t Avenues (a Kuwaiti mall which happens to be one of the biggest in the world) enough?????)

That over, the flight over, I was now standing at the baggage claim, my bags strewn about me, but with nary trolley in sight. It was, as I mentioned earlier, utter chaos. Heavily crowded, as most people had more luggage than what they could carry by hand, and with no trolleys around, they were just standing around with their baggages. More and more flights were coming in. But the passengers from the earlier flights had no way of clearing out. People were running around here and there screaming and fighting over whatever one trolley that had miraculously appeared. The airline staff looked harassed, as they went yelling into their walkie- talkies (about, you guessed it, trolleys) and passengers followed them around yelling at them.

I’d managed to get my luggage down from the baggage claim and was wondering how to get it to the cab that was waiting for me outside. I had just two pieces of luggage. But I also had two pieces of hand baggage Not impossible to transport, but not easy either. I would have preferred to have a trolley.

Suddenly, like a wish come true, I saw an airline worker with two trolleys. Without a thought, I jumped onto it. A second later, another pair of hands grabbed the trolley too. I looked up. It was one of those Arab women. I tugged at the trolley. She tugged back. I tugged a little harder. She tugged back a little harder too.

I looked at her, pushed back a strand of hair from my face and said to her, politely (at least as politely as you can when you’re so flustered), “That’s my trolley”

AW: Oh no! It’s my trolley!

Me: But I got here first!

AW: No no no! I did!

Me: Are you kidding me? I did! You got here a full 10 seconds later! First come first serve!

AW: I did not!! I got here way before you did!

Me: No you didn’t!!

AW: Let GO! That’s my trolley!

Me: It’s mine!

AW: Mine!!

Me: Mine!!

AW: Mine!!

Me: Mine!!

AW: Trolley CHOR!!!

That shut me up. I was speechless. Speechless not because she called me a chor. Speechless because she called me a chor in Hindi! I had no idea she knew any Hindi! That shocked me. And it shut me up. She saw that, and yanked the trolley from my hands and happily went to pile it with her luggage.

But luckily enough, immediately after that, a huge train of trolleys was brought it. There was somewhat of a stampede as people tried to grab a trolley each. But I managed to wrestle one trolley out of there for myself. And I piled my luggage on it and went out to the cab which (poor guy) had been waiting for me for an hour and a half already.

All’s well that ends well, I guess.

The GMAT Chronicles



So, I just finished my GMAT some three weeks ago. Three months of arithmetic, algebra, sentence correction and comprehension and all of three hours to show for it! And of course a score of 600 and 5.5. Not the greatest score…but not exactly the worst either.
But, that’s not the point here. The point I’m trying to make here is that if anyone, that is, anyone, comes to you and tells you that GMAT is an easy test…Do.Not.Believe.Them! They might tell you that it’s a comparative statement comparing other CAT tests to GMAT, but whatever it is…Do.Not.Believe.Them! Come what may.
The GMAT, short for Graduate Management Admission Test, conducted by the GMAC, short for the Graduate Management Admission Council, is not an easy test! In fact, it is one of the hardest, well, definitely the hardest that I’ve ever taken! Don’t believe me? Well, that’s what this article’s for. Read on.
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I never really thought I’d take the GMAT. In my dictionary, the GMAT, and in effect, MBA means a lifetime in, say, investment banking. In one word, boring! Not for me! But then, when I was looking for different MFA courses, I came across the MFA/MBA in Film Production at NYU. It was perfect. It was the perfect amalgam of the creative and business side of the art of filmmaking. So I decided to apply for it. The downside…they wanted my GMAT scores.
Now I hadn’t touched Maths since high school. And even then, I wasn’t exactly some kind of a Maths Whiz Kid. Far from it! And on top of it, I had just about two months to prepare myself for the test. The application deadline was looming nearer and nearer everyday. To say I was worried would be a terrible understatement. I wanted the course, I needed to get in, but my maths skills seemed to stand right in between. But frankly speaking, little did I know that maths would be the smallest of my worries.
As I said earlier, I was mega worried. So I decided to enroll myself in some GMAT prep classes. Upon googling, the only two good, credible prep classes in Mumbai were at the American Centre for Education, which was in Town and Edstar, a part of WLC India, in Lower Parel. I live in Lokhandwala, which is in the western suburbs. It would take me two hours to go to Town. Not exactly an option. Not that Lower Parel would be much faster, just about half an hour less. Not much, but still the better option. So, after much deliberation and consideration, it was decided that Edstar, Lower Parel was where I would go.
I visited them the first chance I got and enrolled for ‘weekend classes’ (apostrophes used because my weekend classes almost always got cancelled and I would have to go in on weekdays!). I was happy! I was getting professional help, and hopefully, this meant better scores on the GMAT. So it was obvious that on the day of my first class, it was with some jubilation (more than for any class till date) – to say the least – that I started out.
The lesson itself was quite uneventful. Just a two hours lecture on integers and their properties. The real surprise lay just outside the walls of Mahalakshmi Mills Compound (which is where Edstar is situated at). Like everywhere in Mumbai, parking is real headache in Lower Parel. I’d first realized this when I was working at Tinkle. I had just bought my car and needed a parking slot at office. But, despite all efforts, a parking slot just could not be found for me. There was an MMRDA Pay and Park nearby, but parking was never available there. There were just so many offices nearby! My only option was to park on the streets or park at Phoenix Mall, which was pretty expensive, especially on a 20000 rupees a month salary.
So, when I drove to Edstar, I checked out the MMRDA pay and park (full as usual), and not finding a place there, parked on the road. I didn’t really even think twice about it. Everyone, but everyone in Mumbai, parks on the road.
But obviously, I was wrong. I came out after two hours of grueling integeral properties and what do I find? A wheel lock on the front right wheel of my car!
I had no idea what to do. I checked for the slip that they’re supposed to leave on the windshield, but there wasn’t any. The wind must have blown it away. I remembered vaguely about towed cars being taken to Worli. So I figured I should go there to sort this out. There was just one tiny problem. I didn’t have my license on me at the moment. I had just changed my bag that morning and had forgotten to keep my license and my registration card in my bag. So it looked like I would have to go all the way home, get my license and registration, go to Worli, get my car freed, go back to Lower Parel, collect my car and drive back home to Lower Parel. It was going to be a long day! I had started out at 8: 30 am…by the time I got my car and came back home it was 8:30 pm. Needless to say, I got nothing else done that day. I guess I’m just lucky that the officers at Worli were friendly and helpful, without me having to bribe them.
But this wasn’t an isolated event! The next time I had a class, I decided not to park on the road (obviously). I thought I’d try and park inside the compound. Most probably, that wouldn’t be allowed, but no harm in trying, is there?
I drove inside the compound, only to be stopped by the security guard at the gate. He told me I couldn’t park there, just as I had expected. But I told him my situation and asked him for a place that I could park in. It was right opposite Edstar. I couldn’t have been happier. So I parked there and went it for my lesson.
So it should have been a happy ending, right? Nope, not really. I finished my lesson after two hours and came out…and what do I see? Two of my car tyres punctured! Not a pretty sight…
I had no idea what to do! I had never had a puncture before and I had frankly no idea as to how to deal with it! Somehow, I managed to drive the car out of the compound (not one of my best ideas, in hindsight, and why I did that, I still have no idea!) only to park it again on the side of the road.
Then I messaged practically everyone I knew to ask them if they knew of a garage nearby. I could have gone to look around myself but I didn’t want to risk having my car towed away again! Surprise, surprise! No one had any idea. I even called up my ex-boyfriend to see if he knew, that’s how desperate I was.
Minutes passed, hours passed and I was no closer to finding a way out of this mess. Finally, my dad called me up with number of Hyundai Roadside assistance. I called them up and they promised to send someone across as soon as they could. They took their own sweet time, of course but at least it meant the problem solved.
That having happened, we’re still not at the end of the story. The next weekend was another disaster just waiting to happen. I’d learnt my lesson from the past two weekends and decided that I would park in a nearby mall this time. It would mean starting out 15 minutes earlier, but frankly, it would be worth it. Oh boy, was I wrong or what!
I managed to start out not 15 minutes early, but 15 minutes late, which meant, by the time I reached the mall, I was already late for class. I gathered my stuff quickly, got out of the car, slammed the door and hurried down the elevator. Suddenly, I felt like I’d forgotten something. I immediately checked for my phone. But that wasn’t it. I’d forgotten my car keys. Inside the car! And the car was locked!!
For a moment, I debated going back home and picking up my spare key and coming back. It would take ages, but it seemed like the only viable option. Except that it wasn’t. Viable, that is. My house keys hung on the same keychain as my car keys. So my option of going back home to get my spare key was pretty much blocked out. So once again, I turned to Hyundai Roadside Assistance, who, this time, I have to say, turned up pretty quickly. But that of course didn’t mean I was spared a headache.
So, yes, moral of the story is, GMAT is not easy. If anyone tells you it is, don’t you believe them. The obstacles along your path to GMAT success might be in the guise of co-ordinate geometry, quadratic equations, critical reasoning or as in my case, simple plain car problems for which the solutions are neither simple nor plain. Either way, get ready to struggle and endure. All the best! And remember, you have been warned!