Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Best & Worst of Koffee With Karan S05S04: Ranbir Kapoor & Ranveer Singh


As always, you can catch the previous B&W of KWK here, ft. "fallaley".

Best: Ranbir & Ranveer Know KWK Better Than KWK Knows KWK

Thanks for bringing back the real and only intro Koffee With Karan should ever have, albeit for just five seconds.

#BringBackIAmBack #NeverGiveUp

Worst: The Best Of Bollywood

Let's forget for a moment that this is Karan Johar's (and my) guilty weekend pleasure.

If I had two of Bollywood's current biggest stars, who are also viewed as exemplary mascots for a nation enamoured with Bollywood celebrities, would I spend 100% of all my talking segments on a) relationships b) hook-ups c) Japanese pornography (??) or d) all of the above?

But then, this is Koffee With Karan and not Rasgulla With Rajeev Masand. I'm clearly stupid for wanting anything more from a show that has sustained from needling celebs about their love lives and hoping they let slip some juicy fodder for the tabloids. This show is the Rakhi Sawant of female Bollywood actors, and I'm sitting here obstinately demanding her participation in a presidential debate ("Hilary ne chitting ki hai...").

So, let us just sit back, relax and enjoy this visual:


Best: The Yin To His Yang

This episode was a wonderfully unintentional piece of sublime art for anyone even slightly interested in the current affairs of this industry. We had the two modern-day leading men of the industry, and they were anything but similar. Like Batman and Bane. Messi and Ronaldo. Kohli and AB De Villiers. Two strikingly dissimilar portraits of the Bollywood continuum.

In one corner we had Ranveer Singh, a man who adopted this darkness. Apart from a distant connection to Anil Kapoor, he has by and large clawed his way through the unrelenting brambles into the coagulated jungle of this industry. His first film was sleeper hit, despite zero hype or expectations. He has none of the recommended poise that should accompany stardom and copious amounts of noise that is publicly frowned upon. He adorns skirts at award shows and dances to Main Aisa Kyun Hoon in the middle of a street, while cosplaying Krish. He has made it here because of deep, overwhelming love for the industry. Not many can remember inconsequential songs from Biwi No. 1 or Baba's greatest undercover double meaning songs in their most tragic moments. His acting assets rely on excessive dramatism, over-the-top expressions and high-octane movements. He knows how a 'senior actor' is presumed to carry himself, says balls to that and just exudes supreme joy every second at having made it from serving coffee at Starbucks to serenading Deepika Padukone. Just a man happy to be where he is, prancing around 24/7 high on cocaine life.

In the other corner, we have Ranbir Kapoor. He was born in this darkness and unabashedly moulded by it. He belongs to the Kapoor clan, the richest and most opulent lineage in the annals of Bollywood history. He started working in films since 10th grade. He was primed to be the next big thing, yet failed to make an impression despite getting an overhyped launch by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. He shies away from the limelight because he wants to adhere to the conventional enigmatic image of celebrities. His characters are all inherently profound, and his preferred acting style is to convey truckloads of emotions in the little nuances and subtle variations. He has never had to dive into the industry, because he's been submerged since he was born. At times he seems tired of it, looking to break free for a gasp of air. He, unlike Ranveer, hasn't seen any other life to compare it to and he's aware of it. He has taken that existential crisis and injected it into his acting. One of the finest actors Bollywood has ever produced, yet somehow he remains frustratingly aloof of his purpose, destiny and at times, unsatisfied with his privileged position.

There they were, kissing Arjun Kapoor on the same couch, having undergone two contrasting odysseys in their journey to the top, viewing each other as competition. The long-standing menage a trois of the Khans is finally disintegrating, and we're about to kickstart a new era of Bollywood. These two might well be the harbingers of global acclaim, but Ranveer would definitely need to pucker up his acting slightly and his film choices majorly, because I definitely don't want to put Befikre on the world map as Bollywood's contribution.

But then, none of this was explicitly mentioned or even implicitly pointed towards. It's Koffee With Karan after all, so this is what we ended up doing:


And this:


One final nail in the coffin of comparisons would be Ranveer's expressions when Ranbir didn't know the "Tumne chitting ki hai" reference or Sanjay Dutt's classic sexual innuendo extravaganza. When you love Bollywood, and when you are Bollywood...

Best: The Ghost of Koffee With Karan Past



Give me any opportunity to unload the Ranveer-Arjun Season 3 nostalgia, and thou shalt receive nostalgia. Instant, easy Best for this and a colossal Worst to Arjun for sheepishly choosing Ranbir over his baba, further confirming the 'I'm living in a cave theory' from last week.

Now eagerly waiting for Bhai's first theory lecture for Driving 101.

Best: The Gift Of Bachelor Ranbir Kapoor

There's nothing wrong with Ranveer's humour, and it's endearing to a certain major sect of the population. I'm constantly flitting between 'sahi hai boss' and 'chal show mat maar', but I would rather have him than another poised samaritan. Having said that, Ranveer fell slightly short to Ranbir this time, who was simply hot fire. So many Buzzfeed-worthy one-liners ("My conscious is very clear because I've never used it.") that I almost made this into a 17 Things About Ranbir That Make Us Go Awww Koochie Koochie listicle.


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Additional GIF because 2016 is ending:

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Best & Worst of Koffee With Karan S05S03: Arjun Kapoor & Varun Dhawan

We're settling into a comfortable routine here, aren't we?

As always, you can check out last week's B&W here, ft. lots of twinklin', sprinklin' and KJ's trademark uha uha'ing.



Worst: #BringBackIAmBack

Seems like KJ didn't get my admonitory memo, so we'll keep at the immensely popular 'yo intro so pointless' joke for the second week in a row. So, yo KWK intro so pointless it came first in a sack race with Arvind Kejriwal and Rs. 500 notes. Cue in the forced laughter, for such insipid humour coupled with political agenda is hard to come by in these wondrous times.

Arjun Kapoor laughing

Worst: Arjun Kapoor w/o Ranveer Singh 

Season 3's polka-dotted metrosexual infestation with Ranveer and Arjun is probably in my Top 10 list of Pointless Television. I could write a winding novel on it, which gives all of you even more to reason to thank the stars that I didn't indulge in these pointless write-ups three years back.

I was interested in watching how Arjun Kapoor, who absolutely slew his debut, behaved without the complementary drug addict antics of Ranveer, but alas, I guess some things are destined are to be together. There was nothing wrong with him and Varun, and the kind of sibling-like camaraderie they share was slightly endearing at times, if I can permit an unsullied opinion to break through these nostalgic shackles. But I would rather have him goad Ranveer with some 'tu gaaaa re... tu gaaaaaaa re' or break out into Biwi No. 1 songs than do anything else in life.

Also, what oblivious grotto have I been living in for the past three years to have missed the development of Arjun's man-crush on Ranbir Kapoor and murderous intentions for Ranveer? Has Bhai preached profound love for animals started a driving school? Has Hrithik Roshan written a book on fidelity?

Worst: 'Are you in a relationship?' x10

I could wager that the first 10 minutes of the show were just conventional KWK, in the excruciatingly frustrating sense where KJ kept repeatedly needling for answers no one was particularly interested in giving or listening to. In an episode of 40 odd minutes with three long games, that's a considerable percentage of your episode not spent discussing Arjun Kapoor's smart decision to bring to life Chetan Bhagat's fictional characters or Varun Dhawan's smarter decision to be a part of Dilwale.

10 points to both of them had they ended the entire segment in five seconds in a manner similar to how Arjun answered the other blasphemous taboo question ("So what do you do about sex?" "Have it.") with "So what do you do about relationships?" "Not talk about them."

Best: Still Better Than Gunday


Arjun Kapoor Young

This short clip is the finest piece of acting I've seen this decade, and I've seen Imran Khan movies.

Best: I Want What They're Smokin'



Varun Dhawan funny

The Ellen game shtick plummeted from Bollywood stars thinking they're accurately acing acting tropes with supreme finesse to making an unabashed mockery of them, and that's a 100% better approach. It would've been inane to ask Varun or Arjun to enact Shakespearean epics, especially not when their latest movies have been Dishoom and Ki & Ka.

Extra points to both for their brutal juxtaposition of Arabic, Swahili and Spanish(?). An extra special bonus point to Varun Dhawan for the timely transition to 'Kai jhala tula bhaiya'.

Welcome to the B&W of KWK, where everything's pointless and the points don't matter!

Best: One Small Comeback Quiz For KWK, A Giant Victory For Mankind

The petition from last week worked. Praise the almighty!

In striking evidence of why the #KoffeeQuiz (© Karan Johar) should be a staple ingredient of every KWK episode, we got to witness a post-tragic-loss-incredibly-sulky Varun Dhawan and snarky-condescending big bro Arjun, which is so much more palatable than their polished and diplomatic avatars.


Best: Buzzers vs. Karan 2-0

How can one of the most popular talk shows in one of the richest industries in India featuring one of the richest directors and producers as the host and some of the world's richest actors not afford two tiny working buzzers is beyond me. A small Worst to Karan for not asking Varun and Arjun to make the 'aa' sound when they raised their hands, a la Alia Bhatt.

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Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The Best & Worst of Koffee With Karan S05E02: Akshay Kumar & Twinkle Khanna

We're going to do this as long as it's cool, and then we're going to drag it on to the point where people can say, 'man, it went on too long'.

You can catch the Best & Worst of Shah Rukh Khan and Alia Bhatt here ft. SRK having a mock orgasm and Karan Johar a disturbingly real one.

As always, I'm in experimental territory here so your likes, comments and shares are all appreciated, and increasingly encouraged.


Worst: Bring Back The 'I'm Back' Show Intro

If these faceless reporter segments weren't just initially intended for the start of the season, they should've been. They're so blatantly pointless that they're in strong contention with elaichi in biryani, and even elaichi has its minute cult following.

Remember Season 4's intro? Good times.


#BringBackIAmBack, sign the petition.



Best: Sprinkle Twinkle Khanna

Often, I ruminate the unfathomable depth of my pointless Bollywood trivia knowledge, because I can tell you exactly why Babuji iss baar July mein nahi aaye ('Arre babuji koi barsaat thodi hai..'), but then there are some things I'm completely oblivious to, since Koffee With Karan is my only inlet of juicy tidbits into this industry.

I was completely unaware of how great Twinkle Khanna was until Akshay hyped her up last season (like I said, only inlet). She's something else, and my label for her as the actress in Baadshah I had a minor crush on was just me being an ignoramus, in retrospect. The 'sparkling' candour and wit is a gush of fresh air in this industry of agenda-driven female actors. I'm just glad that with Alia in the first episode and with MrsFunnyBones in this one we've established a credible benchmark for the female actors to follow, and we can actually have casual conversations without them trying to assert a particular agenda.

Also, her presence made Akshay a lot more comfortable as compared to his previous appearance three years back, where if the cameras had panned away for five seconds they would cut back to a decapitated Karan Johar and a nonchalant Akshay Kumar with blood on his hands.

Excuse me for this Akki, but is the Twinkle Twinkle Little Star a good pickup line/song for her love you Twinkle.


Worst: 'I'm Heard This 17 Times'

I liked this episode, but man was most of it a drab rehash of the previous Akshay episode in Season 4. They repeated so much that I was left wondering whether I have a ridiculously pointless memory or they have a redundant one. I already knew of KJ was enamoured with Twinkle, his mutinous hostel escapade stunt, Twinkle's National Awards dialogue, Akshay's early bird routine, Twinkle's Mela bet and the Akshay vs. Furniture melee, and that's just from watching KWK and nothing else.

If in the next few weeks KJ asks Arjun Kapoor whether he's a rampant rabbit or Bhai if he's a virgin, that's it guys.

Best/Worst: When It's Your Big Break On National Television But You End Up Watching Akshay Kumar's Heavily Edited Baritone Play Over Akshay Kumar Serenading Karan Johar




Best: Twinkle's Rapid Fire Round


Karan Johar confused

Best: Akshinkle
Alternatively, Best: Twakshay

Romance and love aren't my greatest subjects, but it's always pleasant to see a blissfully strong couple, especially in the dank, dark and dirty confines of Bollywood. I'm someone who's still in obstinate denial over Shahid-Kareena (there's still hope), so I guess the less documented your private life is the more it thrives. Either way, 10/10 to both and an extra point to Akshay Kumar for being the most timely stanchion when Twinkle Khanna started getting emotional with an honest reflection of her acting career.

Another little positive of this episode was that we actually got to know a bit more about the people rather than gossip about the rest of the crowd. Armed with this newfound knowledge, I'm definitely not dating Akshay Kumar due to an incipient fear of being gifted a paperweight and most definitely not going to be giving my future wife's aunt acupuncture when I set out to speak to her parents.

Although knowing me, the latter is plausibly inevitable.

WORST: WHERE'S MY KOFFEE QUIZ

If you don't bring it back by the rumoured Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh episode, you're dead to me Karan.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

The Best & Worst of Koffee With Karan S05E01: Shah Rukh Khan & Alia Bhatt

Note: I'm in experimental commercial sell-out territory here, because in the archaic words of Shah Rukh Khan, "You need to do the bad stuff to know how hard it is."

Also, Note: Donald Trump may have won, but at least we still got Koffee With Karan.

Best: Koffee With Self-Awareness



I've seen enough KWK to consider myself a certified opinionated reviewer. As much as I would like to shirk away from this guilty pleasure ('junk food television' if you will), as an Indian kid heavily influenced by Bollywood in his nascent years, there's a certain lobe in my brain that will always succumb to darkness (read: Bollywood), my old friend.

There's so much to be said about this dirty, pompous industry (which includes the likes of Kamaal R. Khan) that I would lose you, my lone reader, by the time I'm done. However, immensely satisfying to a pseudo-intellectual Bollywood fan is the significant evolution of Koffee With Karan, and the consequent shedding of an untouchable superstar persona that everyone in the industry used to enforce.

A Karan Johar joking about his homosexual fantasies, an Alia Bhatt giggling at her GK inadequacies and a Shah Rukh Khan aware of spawning terrible cinema (read: Dilwale) is just so much better. We're not at the point where we can have an AIB Roast of Suniel Shetty, but baby steps. Of course, having said that the entire show over five seasons can still be accurately summed up by this:


Best: Shah Rukh Khan On KWK, Always
Worst, Somewhat: Shah Rukh Khan On This KWK

SRK is the undisputed, reigning, defending champion of Karan Johar's pandering gossip sessions. The man, as a corollary of his personality, makes every episode he shoots much more exciting, profound and yet so typically Bollywood.

It's clear an SRK appearance shoots up the standard of the episode way higher than an average one, but I guess that's when you (erroneously) make comparisons with preconceived benchmarks. For some reason, it felt like the self-awareness filtrated the good parts of the show as well, which meant that Shah Rukh was openly trying to be funny and witty, especially during the rapid-fire round because that's what he's known to do.

But I don't want that, you know? The nonchalance, not the purported sarcasm, that clung to the arrogance, wit and humour made it all click, ya feel? Maybe I'm just hatin', or tainted with Bhai-ism, but I've waited six goddamn years to see Shah Rukh on KWK again, and I expected more unforeseen wisecracks ("Are you being sexual again?' "Yes." "Carry on.") rather than an absolutely terrible opera of orgasms.

Of course, having said that Karan's permanent expression on every episode SRK has been on over five seasons can be accurately summed by this:


Also, this:


Best: Alia Bhatt

I would try to keep personal bias out of this supremely inconsequential review of a bollywood gossip show, but man has Alia Bhatt grown on me over these years and man has she grown up in general. The maturity in the selection of roles on the silver screen at an age when Kareena Kapoor was busy being Poo has to be commended. I don't know if it was Shah Rukh's presence, in this episode and during the shooting of Dear Zindagi (hitting the theatres near you by the way, if the show forgot to mention), but she seemed a lot more mature version of her chatty self.

Additionally, there was this bonus father-daughter vibe between her and SRK, and that really took the show beyond the customary suspicious 'co-stars having a fling' territory.


If you would mould a Bollywood star from ground up, it would look like Alia Bhatt. She's born in the industry and knows exactly what sells. But she chooses not to sell it anymore because I guess the genes of Mahesh Bhatt have to produce something more substantial than Student Of The Year, right?

Either way, like Shah Rukh said, she's demotional too good too soon.

Worst: Bollywood's Meryl Streep & Marlon Brando

I'm all for spicing up the tired tropes in KJ-land, but if it means having to listen to SRK's orgasmic cadence, which sounded eerily similar to his constipation sesh in Kal Ho Na Ho and Alia having better knowledge of the Indian President than a '60s heroine being chased by goons, I'll prefer some more Ranveer Singh underwear admiration instead.

Speaking of which,

Best: Ranveer Singh Underwear Fan Club



Worst: Rapid-Fire Is The New Ellen Game

There was a wondrous time when the rapid-fire round was a brutal glimpse into a celebrity's actual personality, unmarred by diplomacy and calculative statements. Spontaneity and candour were cherished assets for they truly highlighted facets that would be meticulously hidden in standard interview answers.

I think it's the stale format to blame -  I've spent five seasons trying to sort the same female actors in order of acting talent, male actors in order of sex appeal and waking up as the guest's public nemesis. Alia could've happily repeated her previous season answers in the exact same sequence and nothing would've changed.

Best: Koffee Quiz Is The New Rapid-Fire

I humbly think the greatest thing to come out of season four, apart from Bhai's performance of his career and Ranveer-Arjun's self-depreciation theatre, was the Koffee Quiz. It stood in stark contrast to the increasing obsolescence of the rapid-fire and was the only highlight of many interviews marred with mind-numbingly boring political correctness (looking at y'all Piggy & Deeps).

This was no different, as it led to a stoppage in Shah Rukh's cosplay of 'Shah Rukh in interviews' and he became 'Shah Rukh in interviews' which is borderline Best of KWK terrain, if something so blatantly oxymoronic does exist. Both of the guests were at their realest, and nothing is more endearing than celebrities being themselves in this vast, vapid and vacuous bubble of specious images.


More of this, please.

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I'm going through an experimental phase (you could call it my mid-life crisis), so if you liked this or hated it, I'm here to hear both with equivalent eagerness. If you liked it, do consider sharing it and helping me build up a blogging street cred and if you didn't, that's what you get for reading an inconsequential review on a Bollywood gossip show.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

'How To Ace Your Job Interview' By Venkataraman Sundaraman

The Hunger Games or Big Boss Brother, it's definitely one of those two. Maybe both.

Having grovelled in the chasms of unemployment from a time when 'President Donald Trump' was nothing but a frivolous joke (some argue it still is, but faulty microphones might differ), I find myself empowered with the experiences of multiple interviews I subjected myself to. A gradual detachment from the corporate stooge I initially purported and the nihilistic interviewee that I ended up becoming was just a corollary of one of my first interviews in the UK in which I had unknowingly waged a bloody duel with the reigning, defending and undisputed paragon of corporate success, Venkataraman Sundaraman.

It was, literally and beyond, a tussle with the law of jungle where the strong survived.

***

As I stepped through those revolving doors, I was immediately ferried to the centre of a jeering pre-medieval Colosseum. An innocuous rodent in ominous hostile territory. A rat chasin' some cheese. Hordes of unseen eyes were assiduously trained on my slightest movements. Movements that were once subconscious but in this moment incredibly forced. All of which was supplemented by permanently plastered plastic visage that exuded false bravado in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity.

The games had begun.

Careful, calculated steps led me to a receptionist who proffered a wide smile that didn't reach her eyes. In return I gave her a smile that would probably have reached Mars, having reserved my most potent smiles for such occasions - meticulously polished by numerous auditions in front of unassuming mirrors.

This was, after all, an occasion for plastic smiles.



As I sat and waited, mocking interest in the numerous brochures littered around me and making polite conversation with other, similarly robotic candidates ('Oh, did you take the train as well?'), in walked the guy who ruptured my bubble of corporate plasticity, by being nothing but the entire bubble himself.

Venkataraman Sundaraman was a portly lad, with half the reserves of an oil rig sacrificed to slickly pat his hair onto his head, neatly divided by a side-parting. To add to that, he was adorned by a polka-dotted tie that couldn't be defended by any extreme fashionista in 2016 and a wide plastic smile that put all my prior smiley auditions to irrevocable shame, in retrospect.

I wasn't allowed to appreciate the spectacle at my own pace, for confident, greasy Venkataraman spotted the only other brown candidate in the lobby (yours truly), and with a glint in his eye, strutted gleefully right up to his first victim. A smugly insidious cat ready to pounce. Where these is cheese, there are rats. Where ever there are rats, there are cats.

You tell 'em, Andre.

I don't know about you, but when I see a brown portly thugger with the name Venkataraman Sundaraman on his name tag, I involuntarily resort to certain stereotypes. Maybe it was wrong to expect him to burst into his rendition of 'Lungi Dance', but I'm a brainwashed entitled man, right? So I needed a moment to drag myself back to disillusioned reality when this legendary figure blurted out the choicest introductory slang in a half-northern British, half-southern British but inarguably, a fully fake British accent.

I was he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.

It took a bit of inquisitive needling from me to break him down to his original Sri Lankan accent, but it didn't last long as we were soon ushered into the actual assessment centre. To this date, I consider the fact that I heard the real Venkataraman one of my life's biggest achievements. But all Venkataraman had was big achievements (or so he wanted us to believe). This lad was an assimilation of all exemplary interview books, guides, speeches and 17-Things-That-Would-Wow-Your-Employer listicles, and he was out to prove it. Every conversation with an employer, be it as mundane as a comment on the weather, would be deftly converted into a speech on his superior teamwork skills, management experience, volunteering services and strong support for gay rights.

Venkataraman Sundaraman wasn't just playin', man he was slayin'

When candidates were asked to present solutions to a given problem, big ol' V would survey them with quasi-nonchalance, but immediately shadow practice any assertive hand or head movement he liked in any other candidate, visualising himself the Marc Antony to the employer's mob. He would constantly remove a miniature comb to meticulously keep his oil fields in check, before shadow practicing his apocalyptic declaration of independence while other candidates exasperatedly tried to give their presentations.

At times, when I was embroiled in the engulfing darkness of the unemployment chasm, I often questioned the entire Hunger Interview Game - the methods with which companies looked to hire the most genuine person on a day when everyone's supposed to dress, talk and act fake. Questions that demand fake answers and not blatant honesty - what purpose do they serve? That a person knows how to answer interview questions?

Why is a modicum of fraudulence still lauded in society in 2016?

Venkataraman didn't rebel against this system, he was the system. He had memorised all the pointers and made himself the ultimate candidate - a candidate that openly focused on his extra firm handshake, visibly stumbled through his presentation in an attempt to sneak in popular corporate buzzwords and in lieu of selling himself ended up selling his soul.

I feared him in me.

*inspired by a true story

**maybe I'm just messin' with you

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Why I Stopped Loving Mahendra Singh Dhoni



<in b4 hate parade>

Long locks, a classical Maharaja-esque countenance, a subconscious shrug, a conscious ball smashing bravado and the bursts of childlike impishness. That was the Dhoni I first saw, that was the Dhoni that caused love at first sight. That was also the Dhoni I lost, and the Dhoni I never saw again.

Unlike Sachin, Sehwag, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly or Kumble, I've watched Dhoni right from his debut. It's been a tumultuous relationship we've shared (if I may take the impudent liberty to assume he cares for my opinion) - I've liked him, like liked him, loved him and absolutely hated him. Thankfully, we've (read: I've) now moved past it all to settle into a phase where I reserve a deep trench of respect for the greatest cricket captain I have ever seen. He is yet to acknowledge my presence, but I guess some people belong in the spotlight, and for now I'm one of those meant to extol them - which brings us back to this isolated blog post in the dreary, desert sands of dead habit internet domains.

I'm not here to tout records or statistics, for they will always be in Dhoni's favour. Statistics, however, often tell inadequate, incoherent, abridged and at times, specious stories. Rahul Dravid batted at the top order for 344 ODIs and managed just 12 centuries. To put that in perspective, that's half of the number Virat Kohli has scored in half of the number of matches Dravid has played. Yet any ardent follower of the Fab 5 era of Indian cricket knew that Dravid was incontrovertibly indispensable, to put it mildly.

Funny things, them statistics. Here's another one - the undisputed distinction of owning the best bowling figures by an Indian bowler in ODIs is held by Stuart Binny.

Let that sink in.

Stuart Binny, who nearly emulated another Stuart's shambolic performance at Lauderhill this summer, is hitherto the man behind the best Indian bowling spell. If none manage to upstage the figures of 6-4, there might come a fateful day when posterity might fondly remember Stuart Binny as a 'wasted talent'.

I've always been a stickler for the stories scorecards tell, and the stories they don't. An enigma that comes ensnared with the clarity they're intended to proffer. Wahab Riaz ended the 2015 World Cup quarter-final with decent figures, yet no scorecard can do pure justice to the ruthless spell he unleashed upon unsuspecting Australian batsman.

That fact will, and can, only stay engraved in living memory.

In living memory stays the acrid taste that Dhoni cooked up on multiple occasions. Whether it was a covert declining ability in finishing innings, an overtly unorthodox technique that struggled in exacting conditions, an obstinate tendency to promote lesser batsmen above himself when India needed him most and the frustratingly recurring feeling each game that he could've done a lot more given his talent. Surely, my memory shouldn't be any different from the rest of the world's?

Yet I often found myself spearheading a minority - a subversive retrograde who was just simply hatin'. Public perception was deceptively influenced by his captaincy, and everything else was annually redeemed by the IPL. As has been the case with multiple cricketers since the inception of IPL, fans tend to diffuse the divider between international and league cricket in retrospect. IPL allowed Murali Vijay, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohit Sharma and of course, Suresh Raina, to convince people that they had talent, despite multiple failures in international cricket. Not for nothing, since all those individuals are fantastic cricketers today (or well, most), but repeated fondness for non-performing cricketers reeked of favouritism, especially when they all belonged to the same IPL team whistlin' and podu'ing its way through corruption, scandals and glory, and also especially at a time when several Indian legends had been axed with no second chance.

As Dhoni flourished under the tutelage of Gary Kirsten and burgeoned his wallet, fame and acumen for captaincy, he gradually lost his reckless abandon. I lost the Dhoni I loved - the milkshake drinkin', papaya devourin' six hittin' maniac. The aggression was substituted with calculation. Dhoni the Tactician replaced Dhoni the Aggressor. The helicopter feebly sputtered, before vanishing from the international circuit for years.

He had luck - an incessant truckload of it. Joginder Sharma was bowling the worst over in a T20 World Cup final before Misbah-ul-Haq decided to give us a reason to cherish a video clip with Sreesanth in it. It worked. In the 2011 World Cup final, Dhoni walked in after Gautam Gambhir and Kohli had steered India clear of ominous disaster. Gone ahead of a Yuvraj Singh in the form of his life, Dhoni quickly overshadowed Gambhir's herculean effort and his own piss-poor performance in the entire tournament, and before it. It worked. Another IPL season followed, a little more whistlin' and podu'ing, and no one would remember his dismal performances in the years leading to the World Cup and in the tournament itself. But I do, with my memory testament to my claims.

Dhoni at the post-match presentation after the infamous Edgbaston T20 where he refused to give the strike to Rayudu and subsequently failed to finish the game.
He never had a good batting technique - his assets being rapid bat speed, supple wrists, brute strength and acute hand-eye coordination. He openly voiced boredom in watching and playing Test cricket and prematurely retired the moment tiny inklings of doubt started seeping into the people's minds. His defensive tactics faltered in stark contrast to Kohli's aggressive strategies in his stand-in match in Australia - so he quit before the criticism could build. His batting had often been shielded by his exploits in captaincy, but the day people started questioning his captaincy it were the first signs of impending doom. For a man guilty of overthinking scenarios, a skirmish with impending doom for a format he was never really able to establish mastery over seemed foolhardy at best. But then if not anything else, Dhoni was definitely the smartest cricketer of his time.

I hated the situation he had built for himself when the men he had blissfully snubbed struggled in domestic matches for the remote plausibility of a recall. I never wanted him dropped or sacked as captain. I just wanted him to do better, do more and be accountable. He was glorified beyond belief and always escaped unscathed. He had statistics that told a different story, fans that happily overlooked his shortcomings and frankly, a captain's mind that belonged on the field. Even if his batting fortunes swung like Bhuvneshwar Kumar's spells, no one exuded a higher mastery of cricket than Dhoni keeping behind the stumps when Indian spinners took over.

He seems to be doing well again, so we're back to reverence. But like a relationship once gone sour, a rope cut and knotted back, it's hard for me to love a man who played his politics, forgot his game, kicked my idol out of the team and ignored him thereafter and still gave me enough reasons to not want him out of the team - I couldn't love or hate completely, resorting to an unwelcome state of indomitable helplessness.

I hated that, and in turn never saw him the same again.

Friday, 19 August 2016

India at Rio Olympics 2016: No Country For Non-Cricketers


This article, this fleeting interest in any sport not spelled with the letters c, r, i, k, e and t, and all this hullabaloo is just an August thing, so enjoy this joyride while it lasts folks, 'cause the biggest, boldest and most exhilarating IPL will soon be upon us, live on Star Sports!

In the vast, documented history of the Olympics, India has won a total of 28 medals. That puts us below Ethiopia and Estonia, slightly above Latvia and on par with Michael Phelps. More importantly, it puts us quite a few spots above Pakistan (10 medals), so ha, in your face! Let us quickly revel in past glory and establish our sporting credentials by listing five athletes off the top of our heads who have won Olympic medals. Go on then, treat this mental exercise like a riddle forwarded to you on WhatsApp - list five Indian athletes who have won a piece of metal attached to a ribbon at the Olympics.

As a diehard cricket fanatic, this is far from me patronising anyone - I took a long time to complete my own proposed mental exercise, albeit aided and abetted at times by Google. I recalled Abhinav Bindra because he was briefly in the ephemeral limelight again. Had I asked myself this question a year back, I would've confused him for 'Avinash Bindra' - as did Mr. Suresh Kalmadi, chief of the Indian Olympics Association at the time Mr. Bindra won his gold. Avinash Bindra (© Suresh Kalmadi) has often spoken up against India's indifference towards all sports not cricket, and the fact that he managed to become the world champion with the assistance of a well-off family, private indoor shooting range and exceptional coaches should astonish no one.

If the provision of training facilities and coaches could help manufacture more Avinash Bindras (© Suresh Kalmadi), surely the most logical step would be to go out there and provide it? Not only do we do things differently in aiding the training of our athletes (by differently I mean horrendously idiotically), we also send a team of world-class officials (with business class tickets) at the actual global competitions for providing 'support' - much of which involves them barging into restricted zones, bombarding athletes with selfies (as you do) and desultory debauchery.

But anyway, in the mundane realm of inane conjecture, this is just in - Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma might be vacationing in Goa next summer!

I remembered Sushil Kumar, the undisputed beast, mainly because he was caught up in the mire of controversy with rival Narsingh Yadav this entire year. I remembered Vijender Singh, because I personally met the estimable legend this year, invited him to inaugurate an event I was organising and also watched him decimate his opponent at Manchester Arena. I was asked to bring as many people as I can, in order to provide some moral support for one of the greatest boxers India has produced. Free entry to witness the greatest, and we toiled to get spectators in the UK.

In the summer of 2014, when India toured England, people lined up in hotels for hours just to get a glimpse of Shikhar Dhawan or Ishant Sharma. I would know - I was considering joining them.


I am no one to question the existing infrastructure of sports management in India - unqualified, oblivious and benighted millennial that I might be. However, the acute connection between my remembrance of Olympic medalists and some news article/personal memory/viral meme implores me to dig into the root of the problem. Channels do air badminton matches - but how many watch them? Papers do publish features on athletics - but how many read them? In this day and age of impressions and ratings, can we blame Star Sports for airing highlights of Mumbai Indians vs. Royal Challengers Bangalore repeatedly when a recap of Vijender's bouts would garner less than half those ratings?

Are we invested enough in sports to incite the growth of awareness, evoke the will to amend the infrastructure and either a) demote cricketers to a general athlete status or b) deify all athletes to demigod status? Sure, the downright rejection of Shobha De's condescending existence and celebration of doggedness in effort and participation in this particular month is a good step, but correct me if I'm wrong, the persistence in adulation for the other 47 months till the next Olympics is what would promulgate the awareness we all seek, wouldn't it? I don't follow football or basketball at all, yet I could name several members of most high-profile teams. This awareness was created solely due to the invested interest of the world into those sports, which invariably reach those not interested as well. Why then, did it take a random patriotic video of a South Indian actor for me to discover Pullela Gopichand and Deepika Padukone for the venerated Prakash Padukone?

Remember how for a few months the world was incredibly solicitous about the detrimental effects of ALS (not in any case because there was an opportunity to upload a funny video and get attention on social media) and now no one gives a shit? That's how I feel every time I chance upon articles that detail India's indifference to Olympic sports - articles that only circulate in Olympic season. I bet you 10 bucks we'll forget how to spell Dipa Karmakar by the time MS Dhoni's epic biopic hits theatres worldwide. Not so sure about old men, but at the moment we're definitely no country for non-cricketers.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Master of all Nations, Citizen of None: The Life of a Gulf NRI

Fa'ar al qarya wa fa'ar al madinah
The city mouse and the village mouse. 

These were the first words of Arabic I studied, back in April of 2005 where this story begins. It begins then because that was when I moved to Dubai, from the serene city of Muscat, Oman. Along with the numerous difficulties of getting life as you know it uprooted, that year marked the beginning of my eternal quest for an identity.

I'm an Indian, born and bred at heart, with a lineage that hails from the historic city of Agra, most popularly known as the home of one of India's most widely cited structures, the Agra ka paagalkhaana. Of course, there's also this marble thingy, but now I'm just showing off. As a kid born and bred in Muscat who was surrounded by Indian food, theatres, literature and people, it was my posh escapade from the reality of my roots.


But as I matured, I started nurturing a morsel of pride in the fact that I have a link to Agra - the former capital of India, the nucleus of Mughal opulence, home to an ancient wonder and currently a very neglected city. It enthrals me like a story left unfinished. I belong there, on that bench in front of the Taj, that has seen me pose for a picture once every five years. I belong there like many of my Gulf comrades who still consider themselves true denizens of Kochi, Chennai or Mumbai. We're guests here, so it's important we acknowledge a home somewhere, even if it doesn't acknowledge us.

Such is the world of NRIs in the Gulf - we're all Indians at heart because unlike our brothers and sisters who migrated to USA, UK, Singapore or Africa, there are no exotic species that harbour hybrids of Indian ethnicities in the Gulf. There is no equivalent to a British Asian (BBCDs, laugh it up) - we eat Indian delicacies, speak with an Indian accent, live an Indian life and associate with a sense of identity more Indian than Arab, yet somehow, in the eyes of the privileged Indians living in India, we have not truly made it in life because we 'don't know what it's like to live in India.'

We're nowhere. We're nobodies. Too sophisticated and disillusioned to live in our homeland, yet never given enough to safely call the Gulf our home. We could've been here for 25 years, yet one tiny gaffe or a slight bit of misfortune and we would be heading back to where we came from.

But here's the cardinal complication - what if there's nowhere I actually came from? I can't really be lost, because (as some metal fans would agree) how can I be lost if I've got nowhere to go?


I often mused that my life revolved around multiple Ms - I was born in Muscat, unleashed my raging, turbulent youth in the streets of Mankhool, tamed that beast in Manchester to return, now, to the desolate Motor City (not the one Eminem's from, unfortunately). Dubai made me tussle with my identity the most, hungover as I was with the loss of serenity and my last few dregs of childhood that I had left behind in Oman. I blamed Dubai for it, vilified it and raged against it. Those were, after all, the wild and uncouth days of my youth. The ominous skyscrapers, artificial ski slopes and factitious marinas that lured tourists like humans to Pokemons screamed superficiality to me. I was a misplaced medieval romantic incarcerated in one of the world's most modern cities.

How could I, ravenous wanderer down the trails of history, appreciate the beauty of the redoubtable Burj Dubai Khalifa, when I watched it being constructed floor by floor, week after week as my bus whizzed past it on my way to high school? I've seen nothing but sand where the Dubai Marina boasts of some late-night cruises today, felt nothing but scorching and relentless heat at the spot where the Ski Dubai beguiles tourists and seen nothing but the vast, unyielding sea where the Palm Jumeirah sleeps today.

How can I be appreciative of the history, when I was a part of the history?

So I fulminated against it. An embodiment of jingoism, I sprinted down the streets of Mankhool screaming my lungs out, with the tricolour painted all over my face, when MS Dhoni smacked a ball out of Wankhede and the Indians came alive for a night. I used to boisterously sing Maa Tujhe Salaam on August 15th and January 26th each year as I walked about. I would wake up early to watch the Republic Day parade live from start to finish, and sleep late or not at all to support India's world cup exploits Down Under in 2015. Patriotism denoted by cricket fanaticism is a simplification of the emotions really, but it matters among Indians and also shut up, I'm a sell-out.

If everything happens for a reason, I'd like to know two things a) who controls this everything and b) what if I don't like the reason and don't want to sacrifice everything for it?

"Where are you from?"

"Where do you think?"

That's my response to the question fundamental to starting a conversation. It's not me being a smart-ass or posturing an enigmatic image - I am whatever you say I am. I agree with those authentic Indians when they say I need to live in India to understand that word, agree with those that say there isn't an ounce of me that's truly Arab (if the ability to fake Arabic speaking skills, love for falafel and the talent for screaming 'yaallah habibiiii' doesn't count), agree with those that say UK isn't the right place for me and mildly scoff at the one guy who once said I'm a citizen of the world.

I scoff at you, random guy with good intentions, because I've lived enough lifestyles to be a master of all nations but freaking hell, I'm a citizen of none. I guess I shall always remain somewhere between the city mouse and the village mouse, but never enough to be either one.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

A Walk For A Lifetime In Manchester

There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for


I started blogging my Mancunian saga in 2012 after one of my rebellious strolls down Oxford Road to the University’s north campus. Rebellious because I willingly subjected myself to a 30-minute walk in the omnipresent rain, wind and morning chill despite possessing a bus pass. The unexplainable thrill of resistance against Stagecoach, or an unquenched need to take a ‘hippie’ approach to travelling weren’t prime reasons, despite social speculation to the contrary.

I loved it. 

If Manchester is a melting pot (a melting pot that is constantly being rained upon, mind you), then the fusion is supremely coagulated at Oxford Road. I would embark on this odyssey of sorts from Hulme Hall, trudge through wind, rain, hail or snow, walk past the historic Whitworth Hall, through a barrage of auburn leaves doomed to fall, with ravenous stares at the world beyond the leafy curtain. Manchester was, and always has been, poetic. 

All the world a stage, and I was still in the audience

There’s a sign on the wall, but she wants to be sure
‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings
In a tree by a brook, there’s a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiving

And it makes you wonder? It does.

The daily glum office-goers, the resigned, sleep-deprived students, people with vibrant, flashy attires, hairbrush-like mohawks wearing jackets borrowed from The Road Warriors. Tattoos that twirled and piercings that stood out, testimony to a society that celebrated individuality. 

Of course, there was me as well - a similar resigned, horribly sleep-deprived (thanks, Ritz) bespectacled boy who might’ve featured in someone else’s blog post as the guy who hummed Led Zeppelin a bit too loud. If those are my five words of internet fame, I’ll take it. 

Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on

The highlight of this odyssey would be at the junction of Joshua Brooks, where I was presented a choice of walking down Charles Street, or sneak through, Frost-like, along the road not taken - a shaded alleyway under an ancient railway bridge that led trains right into Manchester Piccadilly. Unlike the increasingly modernised state-of-the-art trains it carried (much love, Virgin Trains), this structure was like any other ancient bridge - desolate, worn and tainted with graffiti. 

It was the home, and the graffiti the work, of creatures of the night.

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul

It’s no surprise then that I always chose, ‘hippie-like’ if you will, the road not many took. Amidst the moss and weed, at times I could spot cigarette butts or empty bottles of liquor, probably thrown by the same hands that skilfully decorated those brick walls with graffiti.


There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold

As always, I looked for stories in the graffiti and found many. Be it a vibrant caricature of hustlin’, bustlin’ D-O-double G Snoop Dogg, or a heartbroken lover’s lament that involved his or her love’s name in a heart surrounded by the foreboding word ‘WHY?’. I was particularly fascinated by the individual who sprayed ‘The Vegetarian’, and slightly disappointed that no one had bothered notifying me that it was a character trait worth hyping into a nocturnal antihero.


Immensely intriguing, however, were the capricious designs on the walls. One fine rainy (surprise surprise) morning, I chanced upon the words ‘Home is where the hate is’, and remained transfixed. There was a story in those words, and I wouldn’t rest until I had played out all possible scenarios. Was it a teen fed up with home? Or a homeless adult cast away? 

I didn’t know, and I will probably never know. But I wanted to. Way more than I ever wanted a Pepe’s Paneer Rice box. I never knew what happened to the artist, but a couple of months since its appearance, a new line had been sprayed over half the words - ‘You make it’.

Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. This was, after all, one of the many well-kept secrets of Manchester.


And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last

To clandestine Manchester, amidst the ocean of raindrops and the English chill, I thank you for being the beautiful and homely place you wished to be. No place is ever the same, and no amount of future visits can bring back the life you once lived. Buildings vanish, streets get revamped and the people, for it is the people who truly make a place, move on. The man at Spice Kitchen who enjoyed our banter has disappeared, taking with him my inclination to delve into Lahori Channa. The walk to the Wilmslow Park bus stop, five years down the line, will be just that, as compared to the guarantee of a couple of conversations with people on the streets it was up till now. There shall be faces as always, but with names unbeknownst to the protagonist.

All that matters is the time we live in, here and now.

When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll?

Saturday, 9 July 2016

London: My Monopoly Board Come To Life: Part 2

Make sure to read Part 1 first, because who the hell starts with Part 2?

--

Numerous other books and prominent movies have all harboured British or American connections, and as such, I grew up reading and visualising a lifestyle far, far different from the one I had. It used to amuse me that The Secret Seven needed gloves, boots (even galoshes), coats and hats whenever they needed to step outdoors. The fact that they had gardens and backyards to play in and attics and basements to hide in was truly wondrous and whimsical. As a denizen of the Middle East, living in and surrounded by towering building blocks, a house with a garden, garage and backyard denoted luxury. The wind, rain and snow were inconceivable weather elements and ‘muddy boots’ never a complication. 

Consequently, despite having spent a couple of years in Manchester, this perception of a British life is what influenced my thoughts in this piece, so excuse me for that deliberate, probably unneeded, exposition of my intent. It’s important you immerse yourself in the context I took with me, because as I strolled through the streets of London, I found myself subconsciously comparing them to my fictional cerebral manifestations, formed by judging the property prices on my Monopoly game board. Surely, Mayfair would be the best place to visit (over Old Kent’s Road)?

So I walked on, took the tube, walked a bit more and watched my Monopoly board awaken and transform into reality, marvelling at historically significant avenues with heavy names, tha-

Actually, let’s cover that. Apart from stories, I also like a good name. I still can’t place what type of names I particularly get a crush on - it’s probably just one of those things that you can’t put into words. Faf Du Plessis, Lance Klusener, Harry Kane, Karim Benzema, Brock Lesnar, Tom Bombadil, The Nazgul - names that don’t have to be linked to heroes, men of importance or any hype. It’s just the name that gets to me. 



London had its fair share, aided and abetted by references in popular works - Bond Street, Baker Street, Marylebone, Trafalgar Square, Fleet Street, Strand, Tottenham Hale. I think this was a big factor - every section of the city was, or seemed, relevant. Each tube station name jumped out to me historically significant. To have the infinite power (vested by a day travelcard) of being able to travel to Canary Wharf, Westminster or Piccadilly Circus was thrilling. A thrill that could only be sparked by the pulsating and vibrant city of London, unlike any other the United Kingdom has to offer. 

The architecture, the parks, the squares, the people and the stories. I ambled, completely by chance, into a park one-tenth the size of Hyde Park, and found myself facing a 9/11 memorial. London probably doesn’t like having simple, ordinary parks and squares, I mused as I stared at the small encrypted stone that rested above a rusted steel girder from the World Trade Center. For all the experiences and visuals I had the privilege of chancing upon in one of the leading global cities in the world, the words of Queen Elizabeth that lay etched on a wooden pediment in a tiny memorial garden have stayed with me, probably never to be separated -

‘Grief is the price we pay for love.’ 



This was it. The depth. The meaning in the words, the emotions in the phrases. The superficiality I had grown up with nowhere to be found. A city juxtaposed with modernistic skyscrapers and archaic monuments. The beauty of it all in contrast with the darkling underbelly of this massive beast, where crawled the infamous London Underground, symbolic of its veiled countenance. 

Swarms of eclectic people filed through and lined up at platforms to peer into the immovable darkness. A distant rumble, a sudden whoosh and out rushed the trains I remember from video games and movies.

For the Londoners, this was a daily quest to scale the colossal city. They don't see the spires and antiquated architectures anymore. Nelson's column is just another photograph and Big Ben just another fancy clock.

For a young Indian kid heavily influenced by British culture, however, it was his Monopoly board come to life.

London: My Monopoly Board Come To Life: Part 1



“I like cities with a story.”

Ever since I was young and moderately literate, I’ve been a hopeless aficionado of storytelling and storytellers. If you’re into underrated Bollywood movies and have managed to expose yourself to the visually and mentally stimulating odyssey that is Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha, that little kid gaping with open-mouthed amazement at the apparently magical storyteller with larger than life yarns could have easily been me (spoiler: he was full of shit).

Stories are my thing. If being funny was Chandler’s thing, and getting divorced was Ross’, then stories are definitely mine. Storytelling is an unacknowledged art, and a good story the masterpiece. There’s an aura of magic engulfing the creation of fictitious realms, and their ability to transport you away, oblivious to mundane realities. 

I’ve come to terms with the fact that such profound musings from me have the probability of appearing daft or worse, pseudo-intellectual, so let me allow Hugh Jackman (you’re welcome, ladies) to say the exact same words, but now with credibility - "... but if you could fool them, even for a second, then you can make them wonder, and then you... then you got to see something really special. You really don’t know? It was... it was the look on their faces.”

Having spent my teenage years in Dubai, a city that I initially resented for the superficiality that it happily celebrated, I was a parched little mind ambling aimlessly through the immaculate streets of the city that cared. It was not until I stepped foot, ‘way on down south onto London Town’ that I came to terms with my infatuation for cities with a story. London, beautiful old city London, had many.

I had been to London on numerous instances previously, but it took a loner trip for me to really see it. I have lived a childhood engulfed with Western influences, primarily the enchanting works of Enid Blyton and one JK Rowling. Sometimes I wonder whether it’s just the serene beauty of it or the fact that it was featured in my favourite chapter of one of my favourite book series, but King’s Cross station has always held an indescribable aura to it. I’ve clearly got my priorities right since I could happily whisk past the Buckingham Palace without a second glance, yet gaze, until the end of time, at King’s Cross. 


“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on Earth should that mean it is not real?”