Thursday, July 25, 2013

12 rupee meal anyone?

Raj Babbar, in defense of the poverty figures, said that a full meal is available in Mumbai for 12 rupees. My colleague Shawan went out to find out if this is really possible. By a full meal, I hope Mr. Babbar meant, main course - dal/sabzi, chapati and rice, because sadly we found out that the cheapest such full meal comes for Rs. 30, which is a little less than the minimum the UPA thinks is enough for survival in a city. While my colleague went out to figure the current rates, I decided to draw from my own experiences of living in penury  during the initial days of my journalistic career (dear HR, pls ignore the description :-P). Being a perpetual bargain hunter, here I shall list out the cheapest way of spending a day in Mumbai. But of course, you can't live on cheap rent in Mumbai, everything else, you may still cut corners with. Even so, Mr. Babbar do not rejoice, because the average daily expense, not inclusive of rent, will surely be 100-150 rupees.

So let's start with the beginning of the day. Of course, you need tea/coffee. The average cycle chai wala sells a 20 ml glass of chai at 5 rupees and coffee at 7 rupees. If you want to have it at a proper stall, chai costs around 7-8 and coffee 10-12. Going by the minimum, say you spent 5 rupees for 2 full sips (that's how small the glass is) of chai from the cycle chai wala. The average wada pav wala now sells vada pavs for a minimum of 10 rupees. A plate of poha/seviyan upma/rava upma/dharavi idli would also cost around 10 rupees. So you have spent 15 rupees on breakfast already, which is about half the amount, the government thinks you need to survive.

Now unless you sleep on the pavement outside your office, you very likely stay pretty far from your workplace; which means you will either take a bus or a train, considering the minimum rate of autos and taxis would mean that you will completely exhaust your daily limit of 33 rupees. And to give the benefit of doubt to  Mr. Babbar, lets place ourselves either in a slum in Dharavi (Mahim east) or Kurla. From both stations, going towards CST/Churchgate or Andheri side where you are likely to find work you would spend atleast 10 rupees by train and 20 by bus, so lets take the train, shall we? That's an expenditure of 25 rupees already. According to the poverty figures, you can have lunch and dinner in the remaining 7 rupees. NOT.

The average thela that sells a full meal, a place frequented by taxi/auto drivers sells a plate for atleast 30 rupees. Most of these are places are just a small table placed on the roadside where people stand and eat. Some of these around BSE and Zaveri Bazar sell biryani/pulao for 25 rupees a plate. A place with creaky chairs and a roof will charge you atleast 50 rupees for a thali. These are those establishments that have come up under empty places under the flyover or just outside railway stations. Everywhere else, the average rate for a thali is 70 bucks. If you are penny pinching and let go of the full meal concept then there are sandwich walas who will give you a simple sandwich for 15 rupees, but we are talking of a full meal here. So by lunch time, one has already spent 55 rupees, a full 12 rupees above the minimum level.

Dinner would cost you another 30 rupees and you might have one more cup of chai in the evening, the commute back home will cost you 10 rupees more. The sum total therefore is around 95 rupees. Beware that this does not include clothes or rent. By Mr. Babbar's standards one would have to sleep only on the pavement because even the smallest kholi in a slum costs you around 3000 per month, which you share with atleast 4 other people. Let's even assume that one uses only 2 pairs of clothes a month, which one has presumably picked up from the Mahim church Wednesday market or from Kabutarkhana (both places where one gets second hand and sometimes even stolen clothes) for 50 rupees a piece. The average monthly expenditure along with rent therefore is 5950 which translates to 198 rupees a day. Of course, if one lives on the pavement and cuts out on rent, then the average monthly expenditure just for mere survival is 2950 which translates to about 98 rupees a day. This assuming you are only fending for yourself. If you go on a vada pav diet 3 times a day, 30 days a month and live on the pavement, then maybe, just maybe you can live within the poverty line figures.

In fact, wherever this place is, that serves 12 rupee meals would be a boon not just to the poor, but to all of us, because even cooking your own meals has become costly in Mumbai thanks to vegetable prices. So Mr. Babbar, please pass along the address of this place, in this shaky economy, even poor journalists like us need to save money in whatever form we can (again, apologies to my HR team, this wasn't meant for you). However, I have a sneaky suspicion that the honorable MP has perhaps wrongly assumed that the Indian parliament is located in Mumbai because my Delhi counterparts inform me that is the only place where one can still have a full meal for 12 rupees.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Lootera - the Ankahee

O' Henry's The Last Leaf was a part of our school syllabus, so having heard that Lootera was loosely based on that, meant I knew a little of what to expect. When I saw the trailers, I wasn't really impressed, the Bhansali-esque blue frames are really not my thing. One of the things that changed my mind somewhat was the music, especially the song Ankahee and I thought that maybe, just maybe I would watch it. But in the week running up to its release, there was a lot of positive buzz about the film and with so much being said about how it will be a great watch, I decided to give it a go. Certain 5/5 reviews also helped the case.

But the 5/5 reviews are probably more responsible than the actual film for my disappointment. Lootera is the kind of movie, by which film professors can demonstrate cinematic grammar to their students. The frames are well thought out, the colour tones change with the mood of the characters, the background score aids the narrative. The actors are well cast and they make an honest effort.

So if everything is right, why did I feel disappointed? In a way, Lootera was like that perfectly chiselled model, whose looks guarantee eyeballs and hence you decide to cast them in a film, only to realise acting is not just about looks. At no point in the movie, despite a brilliant performance by both the protagonists, did I end up empathising with any of them. I waited for that one moment when my heart would well up, when I would cheer the protagonist on, when I would be so invested in their story as to be eager to know what happens next to them. Instead, I was merely observing the proceedings. And this comes from a girl who can even shed a tear looking at how Deepika Padukone was bullied by her friends in Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwani for being 'chashmish scholar'. So why didn't I feel anything? Isn't Lootera supposed to be a romantic drama and isn't romance only worth it, if you feel for the characters? But the only character I actually felt something for was the Zamindar's, a political representation of those times, rather than romantic. The pathos that reading an O' Henry story evokes was missing.

I kept coming back to this question and it continues to baffle me. Why, when a movie is technically all that it should be, didn't I feel anything for the protagonists. I imagine it was because I read reviews about how poetic and great it is, I read of how the camera lingers and caresses (which it does in pure cinematic grammar terms), of how it engrosses. And perhaps that was the biggest disappointment, that some of the descriptions in the reviews, were more lyrical and impactful than the movie itself.

Which brings to mind the fact that there is now this clamour amongst a certain group of critics to laud anything that is supposedly 'different' as fabulous. From an era of impromptu scripts, the transition to bound scripts that are strictly adhered to, must have been exhilarting for this group that has closely seen the decline of cinematic excellence in the '80s and '90s. But that doesn't mean anything that follows cinematic grammar is a good movie. But, cinematic grammar has become the trademark of film makers, who want to portray themselves as different from the Dharma-Yashraj camp in Bollywood. To that extent, I guess Anurag Kashyap, Lootera's producer, has succeeded in creating a niche for himself. However, the only trouble is that now if one wants to watch the same old cliched fluff, one watches a Dharma-Yashraj production and if one wants to watch the same old cliched 'different' then one chooses a Phantom production. And so despite all the brilliance, Lootera just didn't move me. Its a good film but not one I'll remember fondly for making me fall in or out of love. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Black Swan - some thoughts

I caught The Black Swan more than a year after its Oscar win. It was one of those TV premieres.
Movies about dreams and ambitions are always captivating. Black Swan is no different. That said, it is also the kind of movie only those who understand the deep, overpowering emotions that ambition creates, can appreciate. Creative ambition, as the movie portrays, is something that can drive anyone to almost persecutionist perfection.

If you have ever had a burning desire, a desire so powerful that you would either have it or let yourself be condemned by its absence, then this is the movie for you. And Natalie Portman depicts it with all the vulnerability that comes with such passion.

In the beginnning of the movie, you see her innocent attempts at just securing a position for herself in the ruthless world of ballet. She is not trying to topple anyone, she just wants to be one among the many stars. But is she taking over from the reigning and aging queen? When she finally does, you see how deep a cut, the desire to win can make.

Most of us start out like Natalie's character. We strive through the initial parts of our life just trying to be a new person, just us. Then we see someone who we feel is better at being us than we are or someone who we feel is where we would like to see ourselves. Its then that the downfall begins. You first strive to be something more, anything more. You have to shed inhibitions and any thoughts of who you thought you were, its like a painful deflowering. To be more, some emulate, some counter strike, some vitiate and some, they believe. The ones who believe, they are the rare ones. Most of us end up emulating, some to good effect, others to disastrous.

Now don't take me wrong, emulating in itself is many a times a good thing. No hard feelings there. But where is Portman's character? She is done emulating the moment she has achieved some amount of recognition. Now what she wants is to be better than anyone ever has been. This is ambition, its almost like greed. It never ends. You want more and more and you are ready to punish yourself to any length, just to be able to look in the mirror and smile the day you succeed. The film however dwells on the dark aspect of this ambition. How soul destroying it could be to want something so bad that you would do anything to get it. How when your life is all about just having that one thing, nothing else matters.

It is an exalted feeling, this deep, passionate ambition. And yet it is the most disturbing, because anything that has the power to make you deeply happy in life has the power to make you equally distraught when its absent. It can tease you, it can be that forever dangling carrot called 'If only'. You could take the plunge and catch hold of the rope or you could stand at the precipice forever gazing wistfully, or you could take the plunge and fall down forever. Something about that movie is so haunting and relatable. Worth a watch again sometime.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Top songs to pep you up

There are some songs that can just lift your mood, however black it may be.

1. Take this one from Woh Lamhe. In an otherwise dark and disturbing movie, this song adds the pep value. K K, generally known for a perfect rendition of defeatist songs, is high on happiness here.

Check it out.

2. I am not a fan of Vivek Oberoi though I can tolerate Dia Mirza. And to be honest, I would have liked this song from Dum to be picturised on someone else. But the rain soaked song brings with it all the monsoon freshness.

Here's to Jeena.

3. Maana aaj ki raat hai lambi, maana din tha bhaari... what best to soothe your heart after a long tiring day than Rafi's lullaby and the memory of Shammi Kapoor's ever smiling face.

Main gaoon tum so jao

4. If you talk lighthearted, can you do without vintage Dev Anand? There could be many contenders to the pep value song in Dev Saab's repertoire. Zindagi ka saath, Achha ji main haari, Ye dil na hota bechara. But for our list here's a song that shows him as always charming his lady love, so what if she never called out to him. With the ever so fun, Kishore da.

5. And since we mentioned Kishore da, out of all the crazy songs, our list will include a not so crazy, but very optimistic song. As they say, sometimes little (or subtle) is enough.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Of school time dreams and achievements

I just realised that its been 6 years now that I started living on my own, away from home. 2 years in college and then 4 years in big, bad Mumbai. Seemed like a good time to trace the journey till here. I also happened to read some college discussion forum on and it just reminded me of all the studying, choosing colleges and all the madness.

I remember Joe Pinto sir writing a similar nostalgic piece, partly this is inspired by that and also a need to remember all that has gone by. So there I was, a little girl in a small city in Gujarat called Rajkot. My favourite stories about my birth year are the fact that it was the year colour TV became popular in India and the year India first won the world cup in cricket. Perhaps, it is fitting then that I am now a TV professional. But how did I come till here?

I used to be a very methodical student, a geek according to all my friends. Back in my school days, I used to have a personal time table for things. If I had say 6 subjects and 12 days, I would give each subject 2 days, that kind of a rigid time table. Though I did allow myself Chitrahaar breaks. And then, even when I studied topics, I would give them a particular number of minutes before finishing them. It may sound funny now to think back on all that, yet, it helped me all through my studies. But that didn't mean I was only into school books. I read a lot of other stuff, I always knew all the latest Bollywood numbers, life was interesting.

Growing up in a small town has its own benefits. I have seen in a city like Mumbai, people are pretty much set about what they want to achieve, after all everything is here. But in a place like Rajkot, there was always something to aspire to. Little wonder that most of the reality shows today have more people from small towns. I remember the conversations we used to have in our college. Most of us wanted to do something big, out of the box, maybe become the next Ambani, the eternal Indian middle class dream.

During the time we were graduating, the MBA madness had just begun (umm did I reveal too much about my age here? :-P ) Most people in Rajkot did a B. Com. then did a CA or went to Pappa ni dukan. But some of us used to look at Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, the popular celebrity show on NDTV, and tell each other stories of how one day we would be there and who all we would call as our friends then. Strangely, almost 12 years down the line, these people are still in touch and the dream continues though the show is long over.

So this aspirational crowd of ours, we wanted to get out of Rajkot, do either an MBA in Finance or in my case something to do with communication. So my options were either MICA or Symbiosis. I was what some would call a news addict back then, switching every 15 minutes to some Sabse Tez or Breaking news. Wasn't much of a newspaper person, but read a lot of magazines, so journalism was a huge interest area.

The whole preparation for CAT and the Symbi Admission test was another thing that took hard work and discipline. Again, I had a time table, for the year that I took a drop after graduation. I enrolled with a CAT training institute that was famous for its Mock Tests and for 8 weeks, just before CAT, I travelled all the way from Rajkot to Ahmedabad, 5 hours away, to give a test that would start at 9 : 30 in the morning. Looking back, I don't know how I did that. I also remember how my dad would travel with me each time, never complaining. It was just a hunger to do something other than the usual MA, M.Com, everyone I knew was doing. Finally I got through to Symbiosis.

The two years there taught me about people and also about how to handle some of them. The best times there were according to me the various trips we took. I also got to learn a lot about my second biggest passion - Cinema. I met some wonderful people who still are my sounding boards. Nimisha Srivastava, Megha Singh, this goes out to you :-) And yes, Nimisha, this post is in response to our recent chat.

As I went through those forums today, I remembered all that we had been through, the whole selection procedure for the college, the worry about placements, the rush of the first few weeks on campus, the one year of doing a quasi MBA while learning advertising and PR, the hours of watching movies, analysing them at NCC canteen, the vigorous debates on TOI and Indian Express news coverage, the first byline, the first college newsletter English and Hindi, all sorts of memories. And who could forget the Greenday song that was almost a class anthem.

Finally placement time and the first interaction with the real industry guys. Some of us bullshitted and were caught, some of us weren't caught, others just breezed through, some cried, some had to have more than one attempt and finally that coveted job. Sometimes when I look back it seems nothing short of a miracle to have come from a city where people barely manage a proper sentence in English to working in an English news channel, but at other times I know it took a lot of my parents' and my hard work and maybe a whole lot of God's blessings. Yes, all those hours our moms spend praying don't go waste.

The last 4 and half years now I have been working and living on my own. This was another lesson. I have made mistakes in assessing people, I have cried, I have sometimes ranted, I have lost faith in things, but I know that if I were to die tomorrow, I might not have many regrets. I have tried things, learnt things, pushed myself, but yes, there is still a lot more I want to learn. Still a lot more I want to do, both for myself and my parents.

Its good to dream and sometimes remind yourself of dreams you fulfilled. Its important at times to see where you were, where you are and where you can go.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Who moved my eggs?

Ever since I read These are not my eggs written by a very good friend, I have been wanting to write a rejoinder. Just that something or the other always prevented me from getting down to it. What Arpita has written reminds me a lot of my own life. Maybe the fact that both of us grew up in somewhat similar backgrounds also is a factor. It is imperative to read the link, so that you would understand the post that follows.

So which were the eggs I experimented with? Handwriting was one. I used to change it every year too. It was cursive 90 degrees for two years, then cursive 45 degrees for two years. Finally, I modelled my handwriting on that of one of my favourite teachers, who had a slightly childish veering to printed words handwriting. Mine I am told only looks childish, not the eggs I wanted, but never really complained about it.

But like Arpita says acceptance is a major thing. What do you do when you don't like your eggs? Back when I was a teenager, I used to just shut it out. Ok I don't like these eggs, so I will pretend they don't exist. Maybe I would also have one of those fantasy escape day dreams that we generally have as kids, somehow getting rid of the eggs to my satisfaction. Aah the number of innovative ideas that have come to us in our teenage revenge fantasies could make up an alternative universe or atleast a great script for Tom and Jerry.

As I grew older it was more about resisting. Ok I don't like this egg, what do I do now? Sometimes it came to constructive dialogue, finding solutions. But more often than not, it turned into the unhealthy feeling of not having the power. Feeling powerless acts itself out in various ways. Some people take refuge in sadism. Children and anyone perceived weaker is an easier target. You target them to feel powerful.

Another common reaction to feeling powerless is feeling victimised. You cry, rave and rant to yourself or anyone who would listen how the world is unfair to you. Victimhood has a way of making you feel entitled. You place an unrealistic expectation on the world to give you much more than it would because you argue, oh well, haven't I gone through so much already. How dare the world not give me what I want? Karpman, the man who invented the concept of the victim triangle always says that the victim often ends up becoming the persecutor after years and years of pent up frustration. There is also a demand of perfectionism from those around you.

A fallout of victim mentality is the loss of faith and the subsequent readiness to place faith in just about anything. This I believe is one of the major causes for blind faith and superstitions. You don't like your eggs and you have tried all the rational methods of throwing them away or getting new ones, but you failed, so you turn to Voodoo. Ok, not that drastic, but you get the drift.

But at some point something snaps within (well not for everyone). You realise that your eggs are different and that different and bad are not the same. This happens sometimes when you get a closer look at the eggs you think you wanted or sometimes when you have tried every trick in the book and you see that no one has been as loyal to you as these old eggs that you hate. It could also happen because well, you just woke up to reality. However it happens, at some point, you realise that different is not so bad. You can live with different. Infact, different makes you, you. But that doesn't mean you dont eye the other eggs again. I guess, a part of human condition is to always look at what's ahead or on the other end. Sometimes, it leads to self betterment and sometimes you just go vegetarian.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chronic dissatisfaction

At the outset I would like to mention, if you are looking for something you didn't know, you may not find it here. There are no solutions here, there are no startling insights. Just an observation of things happening around and within me.

So as usual been talking to a lot of friends and fellow journalists about a lot of things and the constant theme of late has been disenchantment. Someone is dissatisfied with their job, someone with their spouse or lack of one, someone with their finances. Everyone seems to be struggling somewhere, even if on the surface, it looks like an enviable life. Mind you, none of these people are unhappy or too depressed to move, but there is this vague sense of not being fulfilled somehow, a feeling I understand too well. Some have changed jobs, cities, significant others etc all in the pursuit of something, just anything that would make them feel more alive, stimulated.

The dissatisfaction seems more generational because if you mention it to my parents' generation, they say we are dissatisfied even when the going is good. And being a true blue internet generation kid, what I did was google it up, yes, google 'Chronic dissatisfaction'. The first thing that comes up is of course Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona and how Penelope Cruz accuses another character of having this disease called 'Chronic dissatisfaction'.

So what are the characteristics of people who have this 'disease' (personally I would call it a condition)
* They have been bright students, have generally excelled in life and till date achieved what they had set out to do in childhood.
* Its been at least a couple of years since they landed that dream job, that dream partner or dream whatever, they may not be at the peak of things, but they are not down in the dumps either.
* When compared with the soceity's definition of normal, their life is as good as it gets and this is what confounds them, if it is so good, why don't they feel it?
* Yes, there may be skeletons in the past, but that is not the cause of their current vague discomfort.
* There is a constant sense of what next, is this all there is and yet they don't know if there ever was supposed to be anything more than this.

Most of my observations come from conversations with current and former media professionals. I do not know what is the situation in other fields. There are also various theories about why some of us feel this. Some say we are an entitled generation, we think just because we exist, we deserve better. Others say we are just immature and will get over it. Some others say we are zombies in any case, uninspired people who have been spoon fed everything and expect that to continue. The religious say it is just a crisis of faith and using the magical name of God/Universe will solve all these problems. Yet others say very simply but emphatically - this is growing up and this is life.

The reactions to this 'something is missing' feeling are diverse. Some try to push away the feeling, dig in their heels deeper in whatever they are doing and hope the problem will vanish. One friend changed jobs. Another started a new venture with like minded people. A few others just quit it all and are taking a break, thinking of traveling or spiritual exploration. Unlike in the past, the 'quitters' of today are met with awe and respect for their brave decision, about time. Yet others have taken time off and gone back to school or started volunteering. Some other formerly 'career minded' friends have started families and used that as a distraction. There have also been friends who seemed stimulated by the 'change' they chose but a couple of years later, they are again back to the state of dissatisfaction. And some of us are still observing from the sidelines, trying to make up our minds. Very few have taken up destructive habits.

The ancient wise men and women tell me that dissatisfaction is a source of creativity. It is only if you feel uncomfortable do you start doing something about it and what you do about it is your decision. At the same time, they also tell me doing nothing about it is also ok. It just means you are not ready, or in the extreme case, it just means this is my 'destiny' and I have to live with it.

But there is one thing the wise tell me, which if any of my friends or I could do, perhaps we would achieve Nirvana. They describe a Catch 22 situation where one is content with where one is in life, but at the same time striving to a better state. An ideal state of being they say it is.

But wasn't human existence all about being imperfect? And if it was, the only solution that comes to mind is the magic mantra of 'living in the moment'. To stop looking back at the ideal and enchanted childhood, to also stop looking at the uncertain future and live as if this day, this moment is all that counts. Darn, that Ghajini dude was sure lucky.

And because very few of us have it in us to be so zen, the dissatisfaction continues. My current dissatisfaction is that I cannot provide some erudite conclusion or some magical solution at the end of this piece. Aah, maybe its time to watch 'Bruce Almighty' once again!