This i believe…

Unfortunately for me, I was born without a faith bone in my body!!! If fact be told, most Shirodkars are agnostics and prefer to leave the godly path well alone. This is true more of the men folk in my family: the daughters of Shirodkars still retain a modicum of faith and are “god fearing” and religious, though not fanatically so!! (Thank God!!!)

This men-women difference in the family, itself is an interesting twist of faith! Apparently 4 generations ago, my great-grandfather chose to go on a Kashi yatra (obviously he believed in God) and never returned. People accompanying him on the Yatra came back after 6/8 months, and told my great-grandmother that her husband had succumbed to sickness and passed away enroute. My great-grandmother, shaken up by this twist and turn of life, gazed at the 4 children she was now left to bring up, alone!

Her reaction was to go inside the house (they were land-owners and money lenders)  straight to the Pooja room where all idols of gods were kept; pick up all the idols there, bring them out into the courtyard of the house, and…she threw all the idols into the open well!!! Reportedly, she told the shocked onlookers that if god could not protect her husband, who had gone to pay obeisance to him, she would not worship such a god: and neither would any member of her family!!! Village folks thought this was an immediate emotional outburst and the lady would come around, in due course. But the idols remained immersed in the well and the lady remained firm on her thoughts. Thus ended the faith and “pooja-archana” in the Shirodkar clan.

Her 3 sons and 1 daughter (my paternal grand-father being one of them)  maybe due to their love for their mother, or maybe since they were stricken by the injustice of loosing their father so early, stopped being faithful and religious. They became rationalists and lived their life bereft of faith, away from rituals and temples. This is what they taught and professed to their children. Most accepted this approach, though even in our family there were exceptions; especially the married into the family daughters-in-law. But the approach was tolerant: we will not stop you if you believe, but we will not join you either. This in turn gets passed on generations to generations. Even today I look at my daughter who tends to paraphrase Robert Browning Pippa’s Song “God’s in his heaven/ All’s right with the world” to mean “let God be up there and stay away from me; and I am down here and will live my own life without troubling him”.

Is this right? Is it wrong?? I don’t know. It is hard to believe in coincidence, but it is even harder to believe in anything else.

I totally believe George Carlin ( famous comedian of yore)  “Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.”                                            So what is faith and belief?

I grew up as a rabid atheist, keen to debate and tell people of faith how wrong and irrational they were. My credo was ” belief is the death of intelligence” a la Robert Wilson. But through the growing years (and with debatable increased maturity ?) I understood that I know precious little!! So it’s foolish to conclude definitively on such matters. Resultantly, I became quiet and kept my opinions and lack of faith to myself. Atheism ripened into agnosticism. I did not believe;  but I could appreciate others’ faith and belief.  I understood that views and opinions are so divergent that it is foolish to “convince” others. So let everybody believe what they want and practice as they will. A la Mao, “let thousand flowers bloom”. The world is much better off with toleration and mutual respect of each others’ faith !! Or lack of it!!!

Bengalis have a saying ” if you are not a communist when you are young: you do not have a heart; and if you are a communist when you are old: you do not have a head”. Faith, Belief, Trust, Religion : to me, are similar concepts. Head and Heart both pull you in different directions at different points of life, & at different stages of your growth.  And the best part of this conundrum is that : it is a sliding scale!!! Or it could even be compared to a see-saw that swings either way!!! what is left to you, is just enjoy the ride!!!!

Sometimes (Often?) I admire my wife and others who have a core of faith. They intuitively follow Emerson’s dictum “All I have seen teaches me, to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.” Believers are lucky, as they have something to believe…to hold on to. During the Annual Pandharpur Yatra ( or Amarnath Yatra or Vaisnodevi Yatra, for that matter)  I see hundreds of thousands of followers who are content to chant the name of their gods and saints. They experience a bliss which eludes me. They have a solid rock to stand on;  while I am perpetually buffeted by the sea of doubt and lack of faith. Belief gives a stability & structure & direction to their lives which I do not experience. Like the proverbial blind men, I need to slowly feel my way forward, perpetually in doubt, whether I  am on the “right” track. But would I exchange this darkness with the light of certainty? No! I would rather like to muddle through, step by step!!

I take solace in the words of Yaan Martel who puts it so well in the Life of Pi  “If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”

Still searching for an answer to that one: vikas

Advait Superstar

Just returned from seeing Secret Superstar starring Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij and the inimitable Aamir Khan.

A simple, straight forward tale, told with  emotional purity that leaves you spell bound. And when you do not know what to compliment more: the brilliant story about pursuing your dreams regardless; the professional acting; the unusual casting; the hum-able tunes; the heart touching lyrics you realize this a Director’s movie whole and soul. And then when you remember that this is debutante director’s first film you realize the real Secret Superstar of this Bollywood outing is none other than Advait Chandan. Way to go, Advait!!!!

When Aamir is associated with a film you obviously know this is going to be something different. And Aamir does not let you down. Here he is producing the film anchored by his personal assistant. But he also plays a major role in the movie. He enacts the quirky music director Shakti Kummarr with such ease and aplomb that you are once again left marveling at the loads of talent this person brings to the screen. He is loud, brash, obnoxious, flirty and difficult. He plays the character so well that whenever Shakti Kummarr is on : the screen is full and out-flowing with Aamir’s presence. And yet, at the same time when little Inshu (little schoolgirl with loads of talent) is on screen you can actually see the greatness of Aamir the actor when he underplays Shakti so much that Inshu can play herself well and steal the scenes!!!! The caricaturist music director and losing popularity singer is played brilliantly by Aamir, as only he can pull off.

The story is simple and straight lined: Inshu is a school girl who is a talented singer. Her mother ( played by Vij to perfection) keeps encouraging her despite facing a very difficult and abusive husband. Inshu is a typical self centered schoolgirl: one knows how to receive affection and love: but not give it back whether it is to her mother, her brother, or to her school friend Chintan. Inshu dreams big: and wants to be a singing superstar. Hidden from her abusive father she posts videos secretly and gets a huge following online. This huge popularity gets her upto the “Glamour Awards” nomination. She does not win the trophy but in losing, she wins the hearts and minds of all and reaffirms her love and connect with her mother.

Director Advait makes a big pitch of the importance of dreams in stitching our lives together and going after the dreams to set a new direction to our future. Inshu dreams about her mother getting out of the abusive relationship and a marriage scarred by domestic violence. She even finds a divorce lawyer who is willing to help. And all this is displayed with humor bubbling over once in awhile. The movie never becomes melodramatic or melancholy. While Inshu and her mother are suffering, there are enough interludes to keep your interest high.  And keep you guessing how it would turn out at the end. The last scene of Inshu’s mother (Vij) reconciling that she cannot compromise the future of he daughter  and son and her walking out on her husband while at the Airport counter to check in, is realistically handled. Again another sign of the Director’s tight script control and story telling finesse.

Even the small side characters leave a deep impression on you. Inshu’s brother Guddu trying to “repair” a broken laptop with brown tape and gum. The Dadi who is still questioning why she was born a girl and why she has been a silent spectator to all the wife beating and abusive behavior. At the end the same Dadi accepts her daughter in law’s right to walk out of the life of her abusive son. The producer of Aamir’s new film: the archetypal Producer who is only interested in bimbos and selfies. The school friend Chintan, who loves Inshu and is ready to encourage and help her do what is right for Inshu’s future: even when the cost involved is letting Inshu fly out of his life. All the side characters play their roles very realistically and you are so drawn into the narrative that you carry these people in your heart and out of the movie frame.

Since the protagonist is singer, there is great scope for music and lyrics to play an important part in driving the narrative forward. And Amit Trivedi’s music as well as Kausar Munir do not disappoint. “Mai kaun hun” is the song which appeals to us all as that  is a search of defining ourselves that we all are onto constantly. “Meri pyari Ammi” can be the anthem for the Secret Superstar movie in toto. It has remarkable lyrics. And is rendered very well. “Nachdi Phira” treads very familiar grounds and even the tune and rendition are pedestrian at best. But another song that sparkles and stands out is ” Sapne re” which sets the tone for the story what weave our lives and aspirations together. Finally we are what our dreams are and if we take the risks and efforts we can make our dreams come true is the positive message propagated by Secret Superstar.

I return again to the real superstar in the movie: Advait Chandan. He has even written the script for this film and the story would touch your heart even if it was not embellished by Aamir Khan or the superb performances of Vij as the mother and Wasim Zaira as Inshu. Advait has brought us a film which proves that the art of clean and simple story telling is still alive and kicking. And as Indians we will always root for good music and want to be reminded of a mother’s love. I will eagerly await the second film of this talented Director.

I left the movie theater feeling bad my mother is no more. Otherwise i would have surely told her once again after watching this film how much I love her.

See the movie to be reminded what a mother’s love feels like: vikas


Saif’s Chef

Once in 2014 there was a Jon Favreau Hollywood film called Chef. Come 2017, our desi director Raja Krishna Menon has attempted what he calls a “not so faithful remake” of the film starring Saif Ali Khan as the Chef. And since it is not so faithful to the original movie, our Bollywood version works quite well.

Many things work well in the film. The chief one being Saif himself. Last few movies of the Nawab have been poor outings to the box office. But Chef is something where you glimpse the old charm of Saif. His boyish charm of Dil Chahata Hai, his regal elan of Parineeta, the arrogance of Kya Kehna, the innocence of KHNH and his youthful exuberance of Salaam Namaste : all the varied avatars are in display, in bits and pieces in Chef. Saif carries the entire movie on his shoulders. And you want the movie to succeed, as you want to continue to see this multi-faceted actor, in his many more roles.

Another reason this movie works is as Indians we are always focused on and fascinated with food. Chef panders to that hubris. Whether it is Chandni Chowk’s Chhole Bhature or the Iddiappams of Kerala or the newly innovated Rotazza (Roti Pizza) :- food plays as important a role in the movie, as it does in every Indian’s life! The angst of a 3 Michelin star Chef when a customer dares to say the food is not as good as it used to be is as genuine as is the love with which Saif cooks and serves pasta for his friend in NY or his wife in Kerala. Our traditional love of food showcased so centrally, resonates well with the viewer, even as it drives the story forward.

Besides food, for us Indians, what matters is family and friends. And the family values and importance of relationships in our lives are subtly emphasized throughout the movie. The father and son relationship of 2 generations of Kalras: Saif with his father and Saif with his son are emotionally brought out. {Is it by chance that the rapprochements between both the generations of Kalras also happen due to food: when Armaan eats the Rotazza invented by his father Roshan after they have had a bitter argument;  and, the life long anger of the senior Kalra dissolves when he eats the Rotazza in Delhi and finally smiles and accepts the journey traveled by Roshan.} The beauty of relationships is also lovingly brought out by Ramkumar Chacha who teaches Roshan to cook or his Bangladeshi assistant who follows him from NY to Kerala. Other examples abound: Roshan’s lady colleague in the hotel in NY and her support of Roshan in his difficult times; Milind Soman’s support of Roshan’s ex wife, Radha; Radha’s own unrequited affection for Roshan being rekindled when he returns to India: all these sub plots underline the importance of relationships in the movie and lovingly reflect the importance of relationships in our Indian ethos.

Chef begins in NY and takes us to Kochi. From Kochi via the food truck we are taken into the lush green and watery backfields of Kerala.  After a brief sojourn in Goa we go right upto Delhi. The story unfolds on the lovely backdrop of changing scenery. The snow of Manhattan, the fishing nets of Kochi, the backwaters of Kerala, the winding roads of Goa, the Golden Temple : all leave a loving mark in your memory. The journey of Rohan Kalra is thus not only mental but a physically remarkable journey: pleasing to the eye as is pleasing to the heart.

Full kudos to the writers Ritesh Shah and Suresh Nair. Their script and characterization is totally real and believable. There is no melodrama. There is no pontification. Situations happen and are shown on an “as it happens” basis. The Kerala unions objecting to the domestic servants cleaning the bus;  entire Milind Soman’s character as the friend of Padmapriya the ex-wife; the drinking and brash driver of the food truck who leaves no opportunity to challenge  and question Saif; the Kerala food sampler who questions why he should accept/eat free food but then loves what he gets; the colleague in NY’s Galli restaurant who frankly tells Roshan she is sad for Roshan losing his job but happy that she got a chance to to take over or even the way Radha the ex-wife role is written: all totally matter of fact and practical: memorable but not over the top – all add to the charm of the movie.

Though the blurbs and publicity call Chef a “comedy” this is not your typical rib tickling fare. There are enough sparkling dialogues which make you chuckle. Yet the movie works because it is a series of normal day-to-day believable situations enacted out by simple and truthful characters. The movie works because the entire story hangs together well and entertains you without being preachy, at any time. The first half is a trifle slow. But you exit the movie hall with a smile: 2 and quarter hours well spent and enjoyed :  watching this delightful caper.

Safe to watch Saif playing Chef : you will not regret your decision : vikas