Tuesday, March 08, 2016

India's Answer to Oscars!

“Call an emergency meeting of writers, reality, sales and EM. One hour. My cabin.”

Channel head ordered his secretary and replaced the receiver even before getting an ‘OK sir’. He had just finished watching Oscars ceremony on his 50 inch TV. Somehow he wasn’t very pleased with the picture quality but then he himself had got it purchased claiming it was 4K, 3D, OLED, UHD, PhD and God only knows holder of what other degrees.

Usually after watching the awards ceremony he would Google atleast the movies which were nominees for the best picture. Having a little idea about the plot and cast of these movies made it easier dropping their names during dinner conversations and parties and made him sound knowledgeable about cinema. This trick had worked well till recently when a rival channel CEO started talking about Oscar-winning documentaries and short films and acquiring their telecast rights for his channel. The head had to resort back to time-tested formula of flowing along with the life jackets of ‘ofcourse’, ‘absolutely’, ‘yes, that one is great’ and the best one ‘I am thinking about French and Iranian content’ which was the only sentence needed to show the world that you knew about quality cinema.

But today, he was in contemplative mood. His once ‘leading’ channel was now lagging even the channels showing reruns of old shows of rival networks. Neither any new interesting shows were being pitched to his channel nor the parent network was emptying their pockets trying to buy the rights of new blockbuster movies. Their library seemed like a DVD-rental store where people would never return the DVDs.

While watching the awards ceremony, he thought he had hit the jackpot idea. His channel would host an award ceremony that would rival Oscars in terms of quality, magnitude, content and everything else that Oscars could be rivalled about. He had called the meeting with writers, reality TV producers, sales and event management executives for discussing this idea and executing it quickly.

In an hour about 15 people were assembled in the not-so-large-but-decent-for-15-people sized cabin of the head. He gave them a one line brief of “an award ceremony that would be called India’s Oscars”.

One of the writers sounded confused, “Isn’t Filmfare already called that? And even IIFA?” The head stared at him but even though no sparks flew out of his eyes, the writer was incinerated.

Another writer sensed the opportunity “Arre, anyone can call themselves anything! Tomorrow if Times Now calls itself Fox News, will it become Fox News!”.

“Aren’t they already” someone quipped and table burst out laughing. But the laughter was short lived because everyone noticed that Boss was still serious.

One event management guy said “I think sir wants an indoor event with a great set and a red carpet event with extensive coverage of who was wearing what and who came with whom and …”. He was interrupted by a producer “Seriously? Which award night doesn’t have all of this? And doesn’t TOI give us every single detail next day. I think sir has something more profound on his mind.”

Everyone, except the guy whom the producer had interrupted, silently thanked him hoping this praise made the boss more effusive and reveal what the hell he wanted!

The head smiled and said “Yes, you are right Rajiv. I want something more classy. More refined. Different. Wait a second, they are Live, right? Why can’t we do a Live ceremony like them?”

No one spoke.

Another producer broke the silence “Sir, if we do live, how will we show Amitabh Ji and Jaya Ji when Rekha Ji comes on stage to give an award. Or Deepika when Ranbeer gets an award. Or the audience laughter shots? You know most of the jokes these days are so lame that only some of the stars actually laugh so usually we are just repeating shots for every joke. And most importantly what about the promos? How will we shoot the promo where two superstars are going to fight with each other when they are just acting according to the script and after the break it all unfolds as a joke.”

One of the sales guys also felt emboldened “Yes sir and the ads in those breaks sir. We won’t be able to have half hour long ads between award for best actor and best picture sir. You know sir, we aren’t selling spots at same premium as others these days!”

“OK, fine we won’t do live. How about a great jury and an award so fare that the quality becomes our USP. We might have ‘Fair and Lovely’ as our title sponsor also!” The head winked and everyone laughed at the joke dutifully.

After the laughter subsided, one of the writers said “Sir, in that case we might not have most of the stars attending the ceremony you see. The stars attend the show because we promise them that they will get an award. Only Amit ji comes in the hope of his son or daughter in law winning. Poor guy! And if awards are going to people like Richa Chaddha, Sanjay Mishra, Nawazuddin Siddiqui then stars won’t turn up and who will watch an awards ceremony without stars.” Most of the people on the table had never heard of any other name except that of Nawazuddin Siddiqui and that too because he had acted with Bhai.

Somebody added “Who wants to watch Nawazuddin give a performance in an awards night?”

The head was losing his patience now. “Seriously guys, 15 of you can’t think of ONE way to make an award night different from the trillion already on air!” His voice rose a decibel with every syllable.

A young new writer had recently joined the team “Sir I have some ideas.” 15 pairs of eyes got focussed on him.

He continued “Sir we can have better script. Did you watch Chris Rock delivering his monologue on opportunities for Black Actors and diversity? Why can’t we have something like that? Priyanka Chopra played a north-eastern girl in ‘Marykom’ when any north-eastern actor could have done that role. Somebody gave veteran Assamese director and National Award winner Jahnu Barua ‘Best Debut Director’ award for his Hindi movie! Can you believe it? We have so much diversity in India and yet we don’t have diversity in our cinema. There is raci..”

Chief writer felt that new guy is hogging too much limelight so he interrupted him “Oh sir, Priyanka Chopra was at Oscars too. This year we give her a special award for being first Indian to give an award at Oscars.”

This opened flood gates and ideas flew thick and fast!

“Sir we create a new award catgory for actors and actresses in Hollywood movies and TV.”

“Sir we create a new award category for kids of stars. Anyways they get awards once they start acting in movies. This way we will have dibs on them!”

“Sir we give an award to Sanjay Dutt for coming out of jail. And one to Salman Khan for staying out of jail.”

“Sir we give an award to Karan Johar for hosting so many awards. We call it ‘Lifetime Award Hosting Achievement Award’.”

For next 30 minutes cabin was awash with creative juices of the men and women in the room. Many more innovative ideas were given and taken for creating an award which would be termed as India’s answer to Oscars.

“Vimal Pan Masala presents Fair & Lovely Sony Cineblitz Cinema Excellence Awards powered by Kurkure and Nerolac Tractor Emulsion” is coming soon to a TV Screen near you.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The journey

I must have been very tired as I slept within 5 minutes of lying down on my side upper berth. Even though it was the closest to the gate, I didn’t mind the noise as long as nobody bothered me. It was Friday (not 13th!) night and I was travelling from Hyderabad to my hometown Bangalore for the weekend.
I don’t know for how long I slept before I felt somebody nudging me, urging me to get up.
“Hello boss..Melkolapadaniki” said an irritated voice in Telugu.
I don’t know Telugu but guessed that he wanted me to get up. I woke up and turned towards the aisle to see who it was but there was no one. I glanced sideways in the corridoor to see who woke me but the guy seemed to have vanished in thin air.
The train was at halt and it was eerily silent. I have traveled often enough on these night trains to know that even nights have their own sounds. This night seemed to be mute. I decided to get down from my berth and take a look.
And then I noticed something very unusual. All other seven seats in my unit were vacant. No luggage, no footwear, nothing. I recalled that there were people when I had boarded the train. I switched on the light and bulb flickered with a faint yellow light. There seemed to be no trace of anyone occupying those seats. I felt a chill.
This doesn’t seem alright.
May be they all got down at some station?
All of them? That never happens.
I wore my floaters and started moving towards the other end of the compartment, switching on lights as I went. Entire compartment was vacant!
My unease was now replaced by an unknown fear with sense of foreboding. I realized that only sound I could hear was my breath and my heartbeat.
I must think straight.
Must not panic. It’s unusual but not impossible scenario right? Right.
I decided to go back to my seat. Though, now that whole compartment was vacant, every seat was my seat.
Train was still not moving. Night was still eerie. I turned back and noticed that it was dark at the other end of the compartment. The light of that unit was switched off.
Did I switch off the light?
May be I did?
But why will I?
I reached my seat and was taken aback by the sight. There was somebody perched on my seat, covered with my sheet, sleeping.
What the hell!
To my mix of emotions, irritation was added. I nudged the guy. Lightly at first and then with slightly more force. No response.
Seriously dude, not even 5 minutes since I left the seat and you are sleeping like a log!
Irritation entered my voice and I heard myself say..
“Hello boss..Melkolapadaniki

Thursday, September 03, 2015

What if they remade “Modern Family” in India?

First of all it won’t be a comedy. It will be a soap opera. Soapiest of the operas. With a lot of changes. A bloody hell lot of changes!

  1. Pritchets would be Parashars, needless to say a rich business family and you would never know (in the course of its 14836392 episodes) what in God’s name is the damn business.
  2. Jay Pritchet would be Jai Parashar and he would have at least 2 brothers. (yes, no sisters because on Indian TV you are more likely to have brothers than sisters, unless the serial is about the sister!) Of course the brothers would have their own families and everyone would be living under a single roof (of a giant-ass bungalow named ‘Parashar Villa’). Half of those 14836392 episodes would be spent in family preparing to cook meals, cooking those meals, eating them, praising the ‘Bahus’ for preparing the meals and taking second helpings of their ‘manpasand gajar-ka-halwa’.
  3. Gloria would be a South Indian named Gauri (or Gayatri). She would have a thick Tamil accent and would not be half the age of Jai because on Indian TV even if people marry twice (oh you’ve no idea how many times they marry on TV!) they marry someone their age. And there always is some one willing to marry a widow or widower.
  4. Dunphys would be Dubeys and this family would be more or less same. Phil would be Phani, Claire would be Cauvery and theirs would be an arranged marriage because, obviously! And oh yes, Haley won’t have any affairs because teenagers on Indian TV are supposed to be either gentle, docile, God (and parents) fearing, moral cardboard characters or aggressive, conniving, amoral cardboard characters and lest you forget, cardboard characters can’t have relationships.
  5. Cam and Mitch won’t be gays. Cam would be a woman, named Kamya and they would be married because on Indian TV a) you can’t be a gay character and b) you definitely can’t be living in with your partner even if you are not gay. Kamya’s parents would be more important characters and they would definitely be taking more interest in their daughter’s life and her share in Parashar’s business and money. Because on Indian TV, in-laws are either back-slapping, merrily-laughing, gajar-ka-halwa-munching ‘Samdhis’ or they are back-stabbing, scheming, scowling SOBs whose appearance is accompanied by evil music.
  6. Luke would be the sharp one, not Alex. Because on Indian TV, how can the son not be the torch bearer.
  7. There would background score. Plenty of it. The regular happy, sad, naughty (not THAT kind of naughty you know, nothin’ on Indian TV is THAT kind of naughty!), scheming music pieces along with that familiar ‘balle-balle’ sound everytime a Sikh guy shows up and a ‘hadippa’ everytime he opens his mouth. Basically any subtle moment would be dealt with a sledgehammer of background score, just in case you need to know what to feel when watching the show at any given time.
  8. And last but definitely not the least it would be called ‘Family No. 1’. Because Indian TV loves its numbers and nothing on it can be modern anyways.
The makers of this show don’t need to worry about copyright issues. I am absolutely sure that ‘Modern Family’ writers won’t be able to pick any traces of their show from its Indianized version.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The photographer without camera

(This post was originally written for and posted on Medium.com. It can be read here.)

We had reached the station almost an hour in advance but it wasn’t till the last announcement of the arrival of the train when I realized, with my heart sinking to the depths of Mariana Trench, that I had left my camera bag resting on the sofa at home!
We were on a three day monsoon trip to Mahabaleshwar, that favorite haunt of Mumbaikars and Punekars, taking Mumbai Express from Hyderabad to Pune and then cab to the hill station. I had charged both batteries of my Nikon D 7000 and had bought an extra memory card as well.
For a fleeting moment, I thought of abandoning the vacation and returning back to home but certainly that was not an option. For next few solitary minutes my brain did a multi-tasking juggling thoughts of self-loathing, wondering what-awesome-sights-I am-going-to-miss-capturing-on-camera, self-loathing, may-be-this-isn’t-such-a-bad-thing, self-loathing, I-will-try-iPhone-photography and yes, self-loathing.
As the train’s headlights started showing up, gradually becoming clearer, I convinced myself that this is going to be an experiment: how a compulsive clicker stayed away from a camera on a scenic hill station at its most beautiful time of the year. I will document my experiences and it will be one for the man-kind. (OK I made that last one up!)
The train had now entered the platform and as I told Shweta, her first response didn’t help at all.
“So now your mood will be off throughout the trip!”
God, woman! Don’t you understand this is what I myself am afraid of and need you to cheer me up not vocalize my worst fear. I gave a curt reply and it could have snowballed but by now we had to get aboard the train so this conversation was thankfully left back at the platform.

On the train, I tried to keep my thoughts away from this debacle and focus on other things. It was very pleasant atmosphere with rains having lashed Hyderabad earlier that day. We were traveling sleeper class after quite a while and I wasn’t missing the air-conditioning of the 3rd AC, which as we all like to remind whoever is listening, ‘is the new sleeper’ of Indian Railways.
Shweta meanwhile was in her elements, ready to throw money at every problem on which it can be thrown.
“We will buy a new camera in Pune and sell it once we are back”
One up!
“Let’s buy you a new camera and you can retire your existing one”
And somethings that made sense as well.
“Google camera rentals in Pune. There must be something.”
And perched on upper berth for next couple of hours, struggling with here-a-moment-gone-the-next data connection, I found some companies which rented out cameras (High zooms to high end DSLRs with lenses) in Pune. I managed to get phone number and talked to one of them. By the time I slept, though disappointed that my carelessness is going to set us back by few thousands, I had hope in the heart that may be the trip can still be salvaged. (All thoughts about ‘experiment’ were forgotten!)
Next morning I learned two things.
First, that Indian trains can be punctual. On the dot to be precise. Anticipating at least half an hour delay in reaching and I had booked the cab accordingly but due to this (unwelcome!) punctuality of the train we had an hour to kill at the Pune Railway Station before the cab came.
Second, it’s not easy to rent photography equipment. You had to be registered with the company, which would need address proofs (electricity or phone bill etc.), identity proofs and post-dated cheques. And couple of guarantors! Needless to say rental plans flew out and I was back in ‘experiment’ mode.
You can take a camera away from a photographer but you can’t take it away from his eyes. For next three days, for countless times, I saw things around and visualized how I would have shot them (and how good the results would be!). The landscapes, the flowers, the rain, the people on streets. Everything.
But then there were times when I felt not having a camera was a blessing as I was spending lot more time experiencing things and making mental notes and memories. As a photographer it is always good to step away from the subject and take an all-round look to ensure that you can see its multiple aspects. As a photographer it is always very difficult to do, when you have a camera in your hand with virtually no limits to the photos you can take. Not having a camera taught me this lesson.

In the end it wasn’t a complete abstinence from photography (the iPhone and Nokia Lumia 730 did quite a bit of work) but I wasn’t missing the camera so much.
But I won’t repeat the experiment. At least I won’t want to.