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June 19, 2010

My two cents on Raavan

Check out the appended text ** at the end of the post.

First things first, I never liked Ram. I had questions on every act of his ever since I learnt about Ramayan. First, the bits and pieces of the epic came as accompaniments with each morsel my mom so cleverly put into my mouth. Next came the TV serial. While people put agarbattis on their TV-sets for Arun Govil, I argued that Ram was no ways the Purushottam he was made out to be. The agni-pariksha was the biggest proof of it. As a kid, I guess I had more courage. I voiced my opinion on forums that considered it sacrilegious to talk ill of Ram or any other god. God is god, I was told. Of course, I didn't buy that argument.

During numerous discussions with friends and some not-so-rigid family members, I found out that I was not the only one who thought the way I was thinking. And my mom seemed to be the biggest critic of gods. She is an ardent devotee, yet she has had her questions about the myriad mythological stories.

In my adolescent years, I came across a play written on Raavan. The book was written by Chaturbhuj (the writer's pen-name, I think), a friend of my father's. Ma and Baba had told me about Raavan's knowledge and his generosity, in fact all the virtues one could think of. His biggest mistake, it was said, was kidnapping Sita. After I read the play, I became a fan of Raavan's.

Then much later, Lajja happened. No, I didn't like the movie; in fact, I have never managed to watch the entire movie in one shot. I have watched bits and pieces of it every time it came on TV. Now, Lajja had a very powerful scene where Sita (portrayed by Madhuri Dixit) gives a heartful to Ram (Sameer Soni). I think that scene was the highlight of the film. I would watch the film again only to go back to that scene. I could see my thoughts being reflected in the words that came from Sita's mouth. One would smell feminism in them, but those words showcase the bitter reality.

I watched Raavan yesterday. And sure enough the title was enough to pull me to the theatre but what assured me was that it was Mani Ratnam's. The film definitely gives you the Ram-and-Raavan-are-not-distinctly-good-or-bad message and not very subtly either.

By the reaction of everyone in the auditorium, not barring me, I could tell that people are going to be extremely disappointed with the movie. I made a lot of comments during the movie, something I rarely do. So, was the movie any good? Well, it was a play enacted on a big screen. It had all the elements of a play - over-the-top drama, overplaying of emotions, and poetry - not in words but in pictures.

Raavan was like poetry. And you know what is the deal with poetry. Not everyone will appreciate it; not everyone will feel it; not everyone will like it. Everyone has different taste in poetry or art; one piece cannot appeal to everyone. Yes, that is the deal with Raavan. Raavan was not a movie. Raavan was theatre, rustic but not raw. It was glorified jatra or nautanki. It was different from what one would expect in a movie; that is where Raavan may fail in capturing the audience's hearts. The movie is a visual delight though, thanks to Santosh Sivan.

As per me, I had my problems with Raavan. It stretched for me at some places. I felt Abhishek Bachchan (who I like and think can act) overacted; I guess I would have showered praises on him had I seen this performance in a play. I will rate his performance in Guru better than that in Raavan. I liked Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as the not-so-demure Sita. At many places, I felt she was the hero of the film. Vikram played his part well, and so did all the supporting actors. I liked Ravi Kishen in particular. And I liked Priyamani who played an enchanting Surpnakha. In fact, I am looking forward to seeing more of her work. Anyways, this post is not a typical review of the movie. It is about the thoughts that crossed my mind as I watched the film.

A couple of phone calls broke my chain of thoughts while writing this post. Hope to talk more about Ram and Raavan in another post some day.

** Addition: For those who don't know, Vikram (the actor who plays Ram in Raavan) has played Raavan in Ravanan, the Tamil version of the film. I want to watch the Tamil one to see how he could handle both the roles in tandem.

Pics courtesy

June 14, 2010

Akshay Tritiya: A Page From My Book of Memories - I

Someone I know called herself a nostalgia queen when she gave a caption to one of her old pics on Facebook. I loved the tag, and I thought it fit me well too. Many of my happy moments are when I have memories for company. And in most of such moments, I have another person for company – sometimes, the one who has been a part of the memory and at other times, someone who has absolutely no connection to my memory. I get so carried away when I talk about my memories that I expect my audience to enjoy it the way I do. Anyways, this post is not about my nostalgic side but about a part of my life I get nostalgic about frequently.

My first few years were spent in Patna. Ma used to tell me about this special day in summer she had been experiencing since she was a child. She used to get extremely nostalgic on this day. Her nostalgia was very pleasant; it always succeeded in painting a beautiful picture for me. This picture had more than just colour; it was livid. It was clearly 3-D, well no, it was 4-D. I could hear the sounds and smell the wafts of food that evaporated from the kitchen on this occasion. That reminds me. I have to tell you about the occasion. It is Akshay Tritiya. Rings a bell? Well, thanks to the vehement advertising by jewellers, the whole world seems to be queuing up to jewellery stores on this day, and the trend started just a few years ago. Anyways, that’s not what my Akshay Tritiya is about.

My Akshay Tritiya is about festivity and enthusiasm that I inherited from my mom. The day was celebrated as a day of Keertan day in Dhanbad, the place where my mom grew up and where I would later spend a few years of my childhood and the years of adolescence. So, when we moved from Patna to Dhanbad, one of the very few things I was looking forward to experiencing was mom’s special day.

I don’t remember my first Akshay Tritiya but I remember the day collectively over the years. I remember the excitement with which we would voluntarily wake up in the morning, sometimes at 5. Many of my relatives would visit for the keertan and stay for a few days. That was exciting enough. The chaos that arose from the many mouths that chose to talk, eat, and sing without paying any attention to the ears that longed for peace was what added to my excitement.

The keertan was organized in the temple my Dadu (maternal grandfather) had built in the compound. I have been told that keertan was a part of everyday life in my mom’s family. Pre-independence, Dadu had started a school of sorts where underprivileged kids would learn to read, develop self-defence skills, participate in keertan and leave for the day with a handful of prasad. Our little temple, known as Hari Mandir in the locality, was a centre of activity before and immediately after independence. Later, the annual keertan was the highlight in the temple. People from nearby colonies and devotees from other parts of the town would join in the 24-hour long non-stop keertan. By the time I came to join in the festivity, it was no longer as colossal as it used to be but it was definitely huge.

The excitement started on the day before Akshay Tritiya. It was the day garlands had to be made and alpanas had to be designed. My friends from the colony, para as we used to call it in Bangla, and I gathered in the morning to see the elders clean the temple. The small courtyard in the temple was where we would later display our alpana skills. Once the temple was cleaned, my friends and I settled down in the courtyard while our bhaiyas from the para fetched a variety of flowers and brought them in big baskets to the temple. All these flowers were collected from inside our tiny para that hosted a number of bushes, plants and trees. The bhaiyas climbed up the trees as the entire para watched them trying to outwit each other in flower collection.

My friends and I were later joined by my elder cousins. We made as many as a hundred garlands in a matter of a couple of hours. Later in the day we made alpanas. When I first joined these activities, I was criticized for my skills. I was a newcomer and my para friends had been doing these things for a while. However, I picked up soon.

The alpanas was the best thing during the keertan, well, one of the best. But the alpanas made me proud. They drew admiring glances not only from me but from most people who came for the keertan. I had something to display. I wonder why it never struck that we preserve the painted floor in pictures.

The Akshay Tritiya-eve started with people pouring in for the evening keertan. Every year, a couple of professional keertaniya teams were brought in from other cities to keep the keertan going without a stop. Of course, the family participated with enthusiasm but their throats needed a break every few hours. So, the professional teams were of great help.

One of the great things about the festival was the food. About 500 or so people ate all their meals in the day and a half the festivities lasted. No one cooked in the para at this time. An old house in the compound, one that belonged to my chhoto mama, served as the kitchen. My aunts and elder cousins gave the cooks direction. Often, they joined the cooks in rolling out luchis (puris) and so did a lot of women from the para. For me and my brother, it was a time when we didn’t need to hide our socks and ties to avoid school.

To be cont’d – In the effort of not only building suspense but getting back to the deadlines that are knocking on my door