Cross Posting

Stories For The Hindu

I’m now a full time contributor for The Hindu – basically, I’m still working as a CA in practice, but I’ll be writing for The Hindu exclusively. My content will be split into a column called “Spoiler Alert”, which will be about Television, and other stories of general interest. I’ve already got 4 stories published, which I’ll link here. In the future, I will be cross posting whatever I write for The Hindu on my blog as well, because why not. 

{Spoiler Alert}

{General Interest}

And to think my journey to here started from a blog! 15 year old me is FREAKING OUT right now. 

What a Karvaad

[I had posted this in my Gif Blog (I have a gif blog, guys), and I thought that it merited a cross post, so.]  

The phrase “What a Karvaad” originated in the hugely popular comedy film,  “Singaravelan”, which released in the early 90s. Literally translated, it means, “What a dried fish!”, which isn’t really something that you’d want to tell someone, but this phrase has been used ever since the movie released (and very much more so the last decade) to express express excitement over something, eg: “Hey man, I just got hired at BigStartup!” “Woah, What a Karvaad! What is the pay like?”

Interestingly, this line was said by Charlie, and not, unlike popular opinion, Vadivelu – the phrase is probably attributed to him because he spouts a great number of hilarious lines in the film (which are still very popular in modern tamil pop culture today, most notably, Onga Sattae Mele Evlooo Button). 
Anyway, the reason I am writing this is because I just had a horrible day dream (a daymare?) where, about 15 years in the future, I said “Woah, What a Karvaad” to my kid, and then she googled it, and landed up at a youtube video of Dhanush doing Kutthu dance and decided that that was where I must have got this phrase from.  

Band Baaja Bridezilla

[Originally written for & Published in Outlook India (Web). The theme is a little recurring, but what to do etc]


I got engaged to be married last November. The engagement was a rather unique event, since it happened without the boy actually being present. This was because of multiple reasons, including the fact that my fiancé was in New York at that time and my parents, understandably, wanted to close the deal before he understood what exactly he was marrying into.

Anyway, once he came back, our parents hosted a party for friends and family to introduce us as a couple. On the day of the party, because of a gaffe on the part of the salon where I got my hair done, my fabulous blow dry looked fabulous for exactly 10 minutes before I ended up looking like Cousin It from the Addams Family. I wasn’t happy, but after the first 10 minutes, I didn’t let it bother me. This evening wasn’t about me, or the fact that I resembled a sari-clad scarecrow. It was about the fact that people wanted to celebrate two individuals who had just decided to spend their lives together! Right?

Wrong.

Throughout the evening and for quite a few weeks after, I got a lot of people coming up to me to laud me on my not breaking down (“I don’t know how you did it!”), to the point where you’d think I’d just single-handedly saved a village from a Tsunami while discovering the cure for cancer and breaking Michael Phelps’ freestyle record simultaneously, as opposed to have just had a bad hair day. Some more optimistic people, in their bid to cheer me up told me, “At least it wasn’t the wedding!”, because God forbid there’s a slip in the way I looked on that day, then you know, my whole life is likely to be in tatters.

A wedding today, has evolved, no, mutated from being a celebration of family and commitment to this major party where the focus is only on one person— the bride. In case you haven’t noticed, there aren’t any wedding magazines around— only bridal, with maybe half a page (if they’re feeling generous) dedicated to the other sundry details, such as the concept of marriage, or the groom. Every single one of those bridal magazines insist that you can never be good enough for ‘your big day’, never mind that your partner liked you the way you had been all this time. You might be skinny, they say, but are you a toned skinny? Your skin might be clear, but is it glowing, sun-kissed and radiant? Your outfit might be pretty, but is it Designer (and roughly the cost of an island in the Maldives)?

No?

Me neither, which apparently makes me a poor naive country boor hick-bumpkin, because clearly I wasn’t aware of the fact that I have only one day to be happy, or that there are going to be photographs (PHOTOGRAPHS!) or that my wedding album is the only legacy I can leave for the next seven generations that are poised to spring out from my uterus and that unless I want to be referred to as “Double Chin Kollu Paati” by my great grandchildren, it becomes my foremost responsibility to do everything I can to resemble Indian Sari Princess Barbie.

Comrades, I confess. I’ve been dreaming about my wedding even before I was engaged, okay, even before I was even legal. Yes, I wanted the pretty clothes, I wanted the big party, but most of all, I wanted to be happy. Today I’m on the other side— I’ve seen enough sarees to go colour blind, looked at enough decor themes to make me wonder if I’m organizing a wedding or a full scale Disneyland musical, listened to enough wedding “advice” to compile an 8 book series and it all makes me want to burst multiple blood vessels, when the truth is that I am over the moon about getting married. You see, Bridezillas aren’t born. They are made.

It’s only when you take a step back do you realize that it’s just one day. One day. All that really matters is what is going to happen in the days, years and months that follow and not whether your earrings are colour coordinated with the stage arrangements. I really don’t want to go into my wedding like I’ve been preparing for some covert siege attack (or a reality television show) where failure will result in dire consequences. I don’t want to remember my wedding as a day where I lost whatever little left of my hair worrying about arm fat or the caterer, but as a day where I had fun, and I was happy. If that means not having my Disneyland perfect wedding, then so be it. I’d rather have a Disneyland perfect marriage.

Fifty Shades Of Blue

(Originally Written For & Published In Tamarind Rice)


From what I can remember of being 10 years old, and mind that my memory is elephantine, I particularly recall looking forward to Std V, term 3, with the same excitement most kids that age associated with getting free ice cream.
You see, the third term of fifth standard was when we could start using pens to write. Pens! Those magical instruments that glided on paper in a wondrous shade of blue, and not those shabby, eternally breaking sticks that we called pencils. In case it didn’t seem obvious already, when I was 10, pens were as alien to me as humans were to Martians. I had been given crayons and pencils of all shades growing up, and even the odd sketch pen, but it was during one of my many Treasure Hunter (an extraordinarily entertaining game for one which basically involves raiding your parents’ dresser drawers) games the previous year that I first truly discovered these magical things.
It was a very heavy ink pen, and I remember thinking how ugly it looked, but the moment I let the coppery-gold nib touch paper it became a thing of beauty, of perfection. I had never seen anything like it before! It didn’t break like my pencils, or become coarse. It was just continuously smooth. The pen wrote in the shade of midnight, a blue which made even my doodle look like carefully thought out art. I scrawled until all the ink in the pen had been transferred to my paper, my hands, my clothes and my face. I ended up getting a dressing down from my mother that day for colouring myself beyond recognition.
But it was worth it.
Discovering the pen that day had changed my life, and while I waited for term 3, I started smuggling all the pens in the household. The more I wrote with them, the more I fell in love with the instrument. I wrote quickest with the ball point pen, but the interrupted flow of ink was something that I found annoying. I really liked the lighter, more turquoise ink of the gel pen and adored the smooth white shell of the “Pilot” pens.
My absolute favourite though, remained the ink pen. The steel nib with the miniscule engravings, the little compartment for the ink, the heaviness of a newly filled pen, the odd leak which flowed on to your hands as you wrote – for me, the ink pen was an instrument of joy. My first ink pen for school had been a Camlin, a maroon pen with steel accents and a wide barrel. It was hideous, but in the most glorious way possible. Every day I’d come back home from school with blue fingers (and some times, a blue nose) and spots on my uniform, but despite the inconveniences it gave my mother I adored my maroon Camlin. It was the only pen I carried that year. Eventually, I ended up losing the pen and predictably, moved on to it’s gel ink cousins for the sake of convenience and a stain free uniform. I did occasionally buy ink pens, but they stayed in my bag as remembrances of my former obsession with them as opposed to a functional writing instrument.
I’ve always believed that writing with a new ink pen is much like making a new friend. There are some pens with which you form a connection instantly, those pens where you just know exactly what it takes to bring out its best side the moment you come in contact with them. Those pens will last to be your favourites, the ones that you conveniently ‘lose’ in the depths of your bag every time anyone asks to borrow it, the ones that you’ll take time to clean every weekend in hot water, and the ones that will write out your most important exams, and your greatest secrets. There are some other pens that will take a little longer for you to like. They misbehave most of the time but occasionally show a good side so that you don’t give up on them; they teach you patience. And finally, those ink pens which, no matter how much time you spend on them, will never yield to you and like difficult people, are best left alone.
The last time I had used an ink pen was roughly seven years ago. I had stopped using them because they were very difficult when you were writing harshly timed exams. I became fully dependent on the keyboard and stopped using pens altogether when I cleared my Chartered Accountancy exams a year ago. Yesterday, I found an old ink pen while cleaning out my drawers – it was one of those relatively fuss free ink pens that operated on cartridges, and this one’s particular cartridge had been half full. I couldn’t help but try writing with it again – Half hour later, I had a paper filled with illegible squiggles that once used to be my beautiful handwriting, odd splats of ink, blue fingers and a blue nose.
But it was worth it.

Masala!

[Originally Published in Talk Magazine, Bangalore]



A wise man once said, “Tamil film makers don’t do different things, they do things differently”. Okay, so I may have taken a little columnist license with that particular proverb there, but that’s what it is. The difference isn’t much, really, but the notion that Hindi and Tamil movies are as different as chalk and Chihuahuas or whatever, has been on the rise the past decade and led to the rise of quite a few stereotypes. The most popular stereotype of the lot that people have been tricked into, is that all Tamil films are essentially Rajnikanth saving humanity from all kinds of evil while defying every law that Newton took the trouble of coming up with, which is total and complete nonsense. For starters, Rajnikanth films take at least three years per release.



Anyway, it’s simple enough, all SuperHit Indian movies up to the early 90s had pretty much the same formula. Then, Bollywood changed course while South Indian Cinema didn’t. So today, the “formula” part of the Bollywood “formula” movie involves a story (or something like it), which is embellished with an impossibly good looking star cast, lots of Manish Malhotra and a dance number which has a special appearance by Amitabh Bachchan. Add an “Item Number” which features the latest It Girl and air it as a “promo” a couple months before the actual movie releases and voila, empty hype! I mean, formula complete.



Now the Bollywood story almost always involves a value, such as family, friendship, love and the like. Tamil formula movies on the other hand, thrive on old-school. The hero is the story, the Manish Malhotra, the dance number with the special appearance by Amitabh Bachchan, hell, he’s even the Amitabh Bachchan of that number. Tamil Cinema takes the term “Hero” very seriously. The story is never about friendship or family per se, but his family, his friendship, his love, and his occasional association with the local goons. The truth is, it doesn’t take much for a formula movie to do well in the South – Take the super-hit-beyond-human-comprehension, Baasha. This was not just the movie that elevated Rajnikanth’s status from Star to Superstar DemiGod, but also the only Tamil film (that I know of) which had a flashback within a flashback. (At this point I’d like to put forth that I wouldn’t be surprised if it ever comes out that it was this movie which inspired Nolan to make Inception).


I have personally watched this movie about twenty-five times and I have enjoyed myself thoroughly about twenty-four times. One time I tried to apply logic to the story, and my brain fried itself in the process because there is none, whatsoever. None. NIL. In fact, it defies anything and everything that logic stands for. However, nobody really cared, truth be told no one cares even today, even with all our resources to “better” films and such, because it’s SO entertaining.


The Tamil Cinema audience is really easy to please. All that we really care for, is a tight storyline, fast screenplay and a convincing star cast, and we’ll lap it up, logic be damned. A lot of film makers forget that the primary purpose most people even watch movies in the first place, is to be entertained – We want to be thrilled, we want to pick sides, we want to cheer for the leads and then come out of the theatre feeling good. That Bollywood is now remaking Tamil movies, or making Tamil style masala movies (like Dabaang) is just proof that there is no school like the old school.


However, it is important that Bollywood film makers pick the right movies and stick to the original screenplay – Singam was a wildly successful movie in the South because of it’s Blink-And-You’ll-Miss-It racy screenplay and incredibly simple story line, but the remake was a total disappointment because of a couple of unnecessary twists that were introduced.

Honestly, I don’t think it matters whether people make or remake Masala movies, just as long as they are done right, because when they are, they are so much fun. Masala movies are the epitome of the Indian Movie Experience. I know quite a few people who argue for the cause of finer film making in India, with more realistic subjects, honest emotions and matter-of-fact endings. Personally, I am against that cause. When I watch a movie, I want to be told that the impossible is possible and that there is no such thing as too much ambition. I want to be told that there are police officers who stop at nothing to uphold law, I want to see bad guys go down for whatever they did wrong and I want to see everyone getting their happily ever after. Cinema, to me, is escape. Besides, if I wanted to watch something “real”, I wouldn’t watch a movie. I’d watch the news.




Oh, Those Jerks They Call Heroes

[Originally Written For Talk Magazine, Bangalore]



Love has always been one of Tamil cinema’s favourite narratives, somewhere between Corrupt Politicians and Evil Maternal Uncles. But lately, Tamil Cinema’s interpretation of love the past decade – that is, post 2000 (bet you thought 1990, ha!), I have issues with.
The post 2000 decade saw a lot of evolution and shifts – in ideas, thought processes, values, technicalities and more importantly, in stories, the kind of humour people enjoyed, the kind of cast the audience wanted to see on screen, the parts of North India from where heroines were sourced (and consequently cast as the “simple local girl” of some village in interior Tamil Nadu, because let’s face it, if the audience can buy  a plot where a guy can become a millionaire overnight by singing in front of a black background, Chandigarh and Theni are practically neighbouring cities), the works.  Unfortunately, where the element of romance in Tamil movies was concerned, it was less evolution and more Frankenstein experiment gone wrong.  

Modern romance and love in Tamil cinema has taken the two steps forward and ten steps back route – basically an urban, real, raw story with a 1980s Naatamai ending.  Now the urban, real, raw hero’s idea of an urban, real, raw romance is basically harassment, and that he gets his way at the end of it, is really disconcerting, because if you peel the sticker of “hero” away, all you get is your everyday stalker who hangs around in your bus stop. Whenever I see these kinds of movies, as a girl, I feel seriously offended. It’s not even just about the harassment, but that the hero-stalker believes that he’s been victimized because the girl “rejected” him – it’s, for the lack of a better word, bogus. What’s even more bogus is that after the relentless pursuit, harassment and invasion of personal space, the heroine realizes that he’s the absolute one for her and that he is actually a really lovable guy in his own urban, real, raw way. 

It’s important to note that Tamil Cinema is an education by itself for most people, which is why “mass” heroes always have a title song about important values like doing good, praising the lord, living in villages, charging correct autofares, the lot. So when movies that glorify harassment and teasing and “correcting” the deviant ways of women (which includes wearing jeans) it is not just validation, but encouragement for that kind of behaviour to thrive. Every time I see the upper middle class to rich, educated, heroine falling for the “diamond-in-the-rough” Prince Charming psychopath who had to call her crude names to win her heart, I can’t help but wonder if the Directors would be okay with their sisters doing the same, their daughters doing the same. Ah, but it’s only a movie! 

There is no equality or balance in the equation anymore. The girl isn’t an object of affection, but prey, like some exotic deer rabbit that our hero has to hunt down to prove his ability as an expert marksman. And the girl has no say in this, because if she’s not interested, she’s simply heartless. Or doesn’t have morals. Or both. Because you know, this is how urban, real, raw love stories are! Here’s an idea for a realistic movie – boy sees girl, boy follows girl, girl says no, boy still keeps following, girl says no, boy doesn’t listen, boy keeps following, girl asks him to stop, boy gets angry, says she doesn’t deserve any better, tells her that the only good decision she can take right now is to reciprocate his truelove, girl tells the police, they put him in jail, the end!
This rant comes from a place that is sick of watching extreme creepiness being peddled as “romance.”  7G Rainbow Colony, for instance, was a huge exercise in frustration. Oru Kal Oru Kannadi gave me blood pressure. Avan Ivan made me want to punch a wall or two. 

At this point I’d like to reaffirm my love for Tamil Cinema. I love the experience, to just sit in the theatre and watch an ordinary man becoming something larger than life in a span of three hours is an experience that is unparalleled. But when things start hitting you closer to home, it becomes uncomfortable and consequently unbearable. Recently, when I talked about this with a friend, he pointed out to the classic (and probably the greatest) Romantic Comedy of our generation, Singaravelan. 

I love that movie to the point where I can quote entire scenes off it. But when I think about it now, something doesn’t feel right. Underneath the hilarity, there are a lot of questions – why did Sumathi have to change her wardrobe to only Sarees after she decided she was in love with Velan? Velan had made a family promise to marry Sumathi, yes, but does that justify the endless pursuing? I think the reason Singaravelan stands out and makes you want to forgive it’s subtle moral lessons/misgivings is because it gave us a chase, not a hunt, and it gave us two characters that even the audience wanted to get together, it gave us romance, unlike the movies of today where all you want to do while watching it is get right into the movie screen, grab the “hero” and punch his face.

How I Fractured My Funny Bone

[Originally Published In The Banyan Trees, here
When I was about 6 years old, I remember being the funniest person in all of Standard II. I just was, simply because of the fact that I had no sense of balance. Let’s get real here – when you’re that age, falling on your face is pretty much the funniest thing ever and therefore, having been gifted the ability to fall on your face multiple times like I had instantly made me 6 year old Russell Peters.
 I found my balance that year, but thanks to a severe affliction of foot in the mouth disease, I managed to hold on to my position in the elementary school comic scene (although it is pertinent to note that I did face the occasional threat from II “B” Roshan who couldn’t hold his glasses in place. Amateurs).  A few years later, cruel, cruel puberty happened, which meant that apart from the occasional bad joke, I also cracked mirrors.
 Basically, high school for me was like one of those terrible tragedy-dramas that the audience finds hilarious. When I look back, I am fairly confident that 5 years from now, when people get together for alumni meets, I will be “that person” of all the “you remember when that person did this and that hilarious thing happened?” stories.  Hell, I have a blog dedicated to all those stories (lest they forget) and it even includes some choice experiences which happened during my internship. It’s quite a neat compilation really, from trying to get my first crush to notice me by staring the crap out of him, to valiantly speaking terrible Hindi with a client in Mumbai in the pursuit of learning the language and then having him tell me he was actually Tamil, to getting into trouble with miscellaneous auto drivers, I’ve done it all.
 That’s where life got interesting. People started liking what I was writing, never mind that I was writing the blog as a “Do Not Repeat These Mistakes  Again” kind of journal.  It was great at the start, but then as time progressed, there was pressure. People who had been reading my blog for a while decided that it was about time that I actually grew up, whereas the newer ones wanted more of what I had previously written (“Hahaha, that episode with the Autorickshaw was great! You should try that with a conductor sometime…and blog about it!”).
 What people don’t get is that I belong to the unintentional humour department. I don’t particularly enjoy that my toes have a semi permanent residence in my mouth, yet I do know that other people do, and so I share it.  Apparently, if you have to be funny these days, it’s not as simple as offering your own embarrassment to make other people laugh.
Maybe modern humour is complicated, simply because there are so many kinds; Especially with the internet, everyone is humourous in every manner, which leads to great expectations. Point being, you’re not going to be thought of as anyone remotely funny unless you have achieved that perfect mix of black comedy interlaced with subtle wit, suitably juxtaposed by sarcasm bordering on parody, but not a farce.
 I miss the times when all I had to do to make people laugh was to fall on my face.