An Exercise in Writer’s Block

Recently, I’ve been meaning to write many many things, but every time I try, things don’t come out right. I’ve been trying to stay patient, thinking ‘somethings going to happen, it’s bound to!’ (also said the man with erectile dysfunction. SNAP), but nothing did happen. All I ended up with was a chunk of meaningless Paulo Coelhoesque dribble.

So finally, I decided to just fuck it and write about what I’m doing. Can’t really hurt can it? And the fact that I’m perpetually doing something also supplies sufficient material. So here goes, the unedited continuous nonsense centering around my current activities:

The plane hurtled through the air, but on account of its almost excruciating tininess, it was more like a little capsule hurtling through the long intestine that is the stratosphere. It was one of the smaller planes, without all that ‘jet engine’ metrosexual poofy nonsense that’s all the rage these days. Instead, it had little black exposed rotors that suspiciously kept the plane in the air.

Anirban Chakraborty sat on the window seat at the rear of the plane looking through the window and half expecting the wings to flap.

It was a plain plane at best, without any class distinction as such-everybody got the same kind of seat. They still however wrote ‘economy’ on your ticket so you would know your place in the aero kingdom.

Anirban yawned and stretched as they cut through the sky elegantly, appearing to be motionless against blue pastel background, but actually moving because planes usually have to go somewhere. I’m guessing.

‘This is a no smoking flight’ said the hurried, heavily accented voice of an air hostess over the communication system.

They all are, thought Anirban. They all are. He played with the ashtray that was in his seat from days when that announcement did not have to be made. A happier time.

‘..Smoking in the toilets is also forbidden’

Well they’re part of the fucking flight aren’t they? Thought Anirban. He returned his attention to the corpus of the ashtray. Yes. He gingerly pulled it out of the the seat- it opened slowly. There was no ash inside. Just emptiness. Half expecting a burnished interior but finding-

‘Smoke detectors are installed in the bathroom-’

FUCKING REALLY? WE GET IT said Anirban. Perhaps out loud. Judging by the looks of the passengers around and the man sitting next to him slowly edging away, it was probably out loud. Or maybe he’d just grimaced. Or maybe they had traced the source of erstwhile occurring flatulence. It could have been anything.

An air hostess stopped in the aisle by the row he was sitting in.

‘What would you like sir?’ she asked in a softly lilting voice. She smiled, but there was sadness in her eyes that no prosaic language can express. Well truthfully, he wasn’t sure, but she was wearing what is best described as an upside down blue tin on her head. Such things can only bring sadness.

‘Sir?’ she asked again and she continued to smile. She was well proportioned; quite buxom. A fine ribs-to-funbags ratio. She looked at Kanan, her smile fixed. He felt a rush of feeling toward her. Most of that feeling was concentrated in a particular region, but at the same time he felt a hint of disgust. A hint of disgust that had no place being, yet was.

And suddenly- there was silence. He pondered his ambivalence, mulling it over in his mind, oblivious to the silence, the hum of the engine, the vibration of the plane-

‘Sir can you stop typing?’ she said finally to Anirban, who turned and flashed her a charming smile while continuing to type with one hand. A feat he could accomplish, because he was fucking awesome.

‘Yes m’lady’ he replied handsomely. This is also possible to do.

She tittered at being addressed in such a fashion. She was, after all a waitress in the sky and he, a liberal serving of man candy.

‘What would that be?’ she asked Anirban, who hadn’t replied yet because it takes much longer to type with one hand.

‘A whiskey’ breathed Anirban, dangerously.

‘Sir, we do not serve alcohol on domestic flights’ she said. Her mouth was probably wry, but this fact lay unverified on account of the aforementioned ribs-to-funbag ratio, coupled with the fact that Anirban had only two eyes.

‘Ah’ said Anirban, leaning back in his seat, stroking his chin with his free hand.

‘This is a domestic flight?’ he asked.

‘Yes sir’

‘I see’ said Anirban. This complicated matters slightly.

‘And where does this flight go?’

‘New Delhi, sir’ said air hostess funbags.

‘Dash it all!’ exclaimed Anirban for no particular reason, striking the tray of the person to his left, as his tray was occupied by his laptop, and no one hits the Macbook.

‘FUCK!’ screamed the man next to Anirban, whose groin had been splashed with hot coffee caused by table-banging. (The boring kind of table banging. It is also useful to note that there is no interesting kind EDIT: OMG yes there is.)

The air hostess was quick to begin to mop the spill. And leant over the man, undoing her scarf-

‘Sir, could you stop doing that?’ she said to Anirban, who was now loudly humming 70s porno music, while winking at her.
People are ungrateful, thought Anirban and resumed typing with both hands.

The flight landed in Delhi and Kanan sat in the airport terminal, having a few hours to kill before his next flight to Bangalore.

Now Anirban sat at the airport, with an hour more to kill. He proceeded to the smoking lounge, doing his best to look business-like. He struck up a conversation with a middle aged man, who was looking into Anirban’s laptop screen and was OVERWEIGHT and beginning to lose his hair and possibly the function of his genitals

“Hello” said the man, smiling benignly.

“Top o’ the mornin’! ” replied Anirban cheerfully.

“Uh..”

“Yes.”

“I’m [not paying attention and even if I was, I’d have forgotten by now] ” said the man. “Saurabh, actually” said the man, who Anirban had forgotten was still looking into his laptop screen the motherfu-

“I’m a business man” replied Anirban stiffly, brushing off the shoulders of his Spongebob T-shirt.

“Of course you are” said fucking douchebag who was wouldn’t stop looking into Anirban’s screen.

“Lets cut to the chase shall we? Who are you?” said Anirban, in an business-like fashion.

“I just told you I’m [still not paying attention]

“So you are” said Anirban. “Listen, what do you want? I’m kind of in the middle of something right now”

“Uh. You started a conversation with me, and then pretended like I started it. I can’t help but notice that that fact is not reflected in whatever you’re writing” said the pretentious douchebag who continued to eyeball fuck Anirban’s screen because of his general ineptitude and lack of understanding of PERSONAL SPACE.

“I try to be as accurate as possible” snapped Anirban.

“Can I ask you why exactly you’re doing what you’re doing?” asked the man, who we may now note had stopped looking into Anirban’s laptop screen. Bitch.

“I have writers block” said Anirban woefully. “This is a desperate attempt to overcome it”

“Ah. So you’re a writer!” said the man.

“Very much sir. Very much” said Anirban, moving a little closer to the man.

“So you write, books, screenplays, articles, what?” said the man.

“I..er. I have a blog.” said Anirban.

“Oh” said the man. “thats..uhm..”

“I’m a student!” cut in Anirban, quickly.

“So you’re studying writing then? Or just some general English litt. course?”

“Umm. Kinda. Well, in the sense that it’s less writing and more engineering”

“So you’re an engineer” said the man, with a trace of disappointment in his voice.

“Engineering student” replied Anirban, feeling continuously worse as this conversation proceeded.

“Don’t feel bad about it” said the man, who it appears had begun to look into Anirban’s laptop screen again, the nosy little bitc-

“I’ve stopped looking” said the man quickly, causing Anirban to stop gritting his teeth ferociously.

“Think about it bro” said the man, who for some reason felt that he had reached bro status. “Writers get writers block, musicians the same, creative fields are dominated by words to express a lack of creativity, but really they’re just general slumps. And slumps happen in every field. Even engineering” he said, with unnecessary drama.

“Achieve to be the highest you can be, and persevere through the slumps, that’s just life. Be all you can be, reach the highest possible platform, the zenith, rise up to the sun-”

“SUN BLOCK!” said Anirban. “Sorry. Necessary joke, but too easy. Carry on”

“I’m going to leave” said the man.

But Anirban beat him to it. He may have failed to push the man down the stairs. At that might also have been a completely different man. He may also have spent the next hour hiding in a coffee shop till they called for his flight’s boarding. Prove it.

As he boarded his next flight, he realized that weird nosy laptop screen staring man had an extremely valid point. Maybe writer’s block was like sun block. It shielded the skin from writing and prevented rashes and tanning.

That’s what life is really about.

Leave comments or I will hunt you down and make you. I have google analytics and I’m not afraid to use it.

Your Insane Guide To Picking Up Women

Hey you.
Yes, you.
You in the shirt, with the thing, and the tears. Life not going so well? Do you suffer from poor self esteem? Can’t seem to catch a break with the ladies? Do women cringe at your presence and scream and run at the sound of your name? Has repeated experience made you now enjoy the occasional pepper spray in the eyes?
 
Well congratulations, champion. This is the guide you’ve been looking for. For years I have leveraged my social numbness and unbeatable prettiness to zooma zoom zoom zoom in many boom booms. However, this evening as I lounge in my armchair, wrapped in my  official spongebob smoking jacket, I realise that this knowledge would mean so much more if it was shared with the unsexed masses. That’s you.
 
So enough idle chat, lay down your tissues and stop sputtering. I will make a man out of you yet. Okay, poor choice of words, please put your pants back on. Damn! Has it been that long?
What? Okay then let’s get to it quickly.
 
Let me first paint you a scene, that I’m sure you’ve seen altogether too often. You’re standing in a public gathering and your see this exquisite woman out of the corner of your eye. So sheer was her beauty, that you can never see out of that corner of your eye again, which was worth it in retrospect, because that’s a stupid way to look at people. This insurmountable distance that separates her from your side becomes increasingly unbearable, but you are at a loss for what to do. 
Your intentions are correct but you are in want of a methodology besides your usual ‘jump and wave’. Here’s where you remember me and follow the steps :
Open: Look at your target. She’s not standing alone is she? No, of course not – she has friends. (Note to you: get some friends)  She’s standing with a group of her peers, each of these men and women being an obstacle to your success. To get to her, you must first approach them and initiate a conversation with the entire group.
 
What’s vital here, is as you approach the group, you must betray absolutely no eagerness to speak to them whatsoever. I outline some ways to do this below:
 
Heyyyy! You guys:
Go and say hello in the most warm way possible to one member of the group. This can be with a hug, peck on the cheek, borderline dry-humping and so on. But as the recently dry humped individual meditates a response to your gyrations, you instantly begin talking to the rest of the group. They will automatically think that you were friends with the confused dry-humpee.
 
And you can lead from there.
 
Do you have the time?:
This is a tad complicated so I’ll explain using a conversation.
You (talking to  stranger in group, pointing at watch): Hey, do you have the time? 
Stranger in group: “Yeah, it’s ten -“
You(Cutting them off): “It’s a yes or no question, buddy.”
Stranger: “What? I’m trying to tell you the ti-“
You: “You do have the time! Why did you take it? Who gave it to you? Was it Rahul? Damn that Rahul!”
Stranger: “Wha- I-“
You: “I need it for THE PORTAL YOU FOOL!”
Stranger (possibly backing away, with group): – –
You(speaking louder, so the retreating group can hear you):  “you will NEVER GUESS WHAT HAPPENED EARLIER TODAY-“
 
And you can lead from there.
Noooo duuuuudde!:
Works best when your target group of choice is on a balcony or some place with open windows. Get a friend to go the window nearest the group and jump off. Make sure he screams quite loudly because the groups attention to the jumping here is paramount. As the group turns and notices that someone has vaulted off the premises, run the the window screaming
“Noooooo! Rahul! Whyyyyyy?”
This will garner feelings of sympathy towards  you from all present.
Continue, now while sobbing “..I didn’t even care that you gave that guy the time..” (This is important to really seal the authenticity of the situation in all present.)
Now you are free to approach the group.
 
You: Hey guys, did you see that? Funny story. Oh, you will never guess what happened earlier today-
And lead from there. 
 
Attract: Now that you’ve got their attention, you must demonstrate that you are a man of value. A man of skill and talent and prowess, a man that can melt the hearts of women because he has so much to offer to the world. A man that has qualities and abilities that are desirable. To do this, you may use the following:
 
Palm reading: 
Softly, but firmly, grab the hand of your target and thrust it palm-upwards in front of your face. Cluck your tongue and shake your head.
You: “oh no…no…no.. Jesus”
Woman: “What? what is it?”
You: “Look, this is the grope line.”
Woman: “where?”
You: “Look! it’s right here”
Woman(Looking closer): “Where?”
You(quickly pulling her palm and placing it one your chest. Pref. atop a nipple):”How DARE you?”
Woman:”What? I-“
You:”Just because I’m talking to you, and I’m being nice to you, you think it’s an invitation to grope me?”
Woman: “You pulled -“
You (burst into tears and run away)
This demonstrates personal integrity. She will now value your character and not think you’re a slut.
Cold Reading and psychological tricks:
Look deep into the eyes of your target and determine that you have the ability to tell when she last had a cold. She will be skeptical, this is understandable. Tell her you are adept at ‘cold reading’ while raising your eyebrows several times. At this point she will probably challenge you to ask her when she last had a cold. Improvise.
Seduce: By now you would have successfully penetrated the society of your target as well as attracted her to you. Why yes, you do deserve a high five. High five! Okay now stop jumping. You’re embarrassing yourself. You find yourself now at the last and most interesting step of your journey into pants. Seduction.
 
There are many methods to seduce women, and honestly you should figure this part out on your own. But I’ll give you a quick sample.
You: “Well…”
Woman: “Yes?”
You: “Sex.”
That one’s a classic.
Field Report:
Went out yesterday wearing, large U-shaped magnet around my neck and pants with zippers along the sides of the legs and my “I like girls, that like girls, that are free from existential crises” t-shirt. Spotted a fiery brunette with cheekbones like a babies elbows and a tight black dress drawn taut around her tall frame. Basically, she was pretty hot. I told my wing man (N. diddy, who was incidentally wearing Khaki pants, like an asshole) 
that we might go for the ‘nooooo dude!’ so he should be ready to leap off the balcony. Then I told him he would probably die in Khakis. Who wears Khakis at night? Asshole.

I sidled up to a group and hugged a short guy wearing glasses. (PROTIP: Short guys wearing glasses usually need love and they will respond to hugging positively. Just be sure to break away quickly otherwise things get weird.) I smiled at him and turned to the rest of the group, which was the target and another girl with emo hair.
 
“Heyyy, you guys!” I said. The short guy with glasses rubbed his cheeks and smiled.
“Hi”, said the girls and resumed their conversation.
 
Women will often disguise interest with a complete lack of interest. Do not be fooled.
 
I needed to get between them so I could be better placed strategically. I moved into position doing the running man and staring in the eyes of emo girl. That’s because I guessed that her hairstyle would have resulted in poor depth perception, allowing me to get closer to her without her realising how close.
 
I was wrong, but that didn’t matter. 
 
“I know how to cold read!” I yelled at the target over loud music.
“What?” she yelled, backing away.
“I know how TO COLD READ” I yelled at her again.
“WHAT?”
“I can tell when you last have a cold!”
“WHAT?”
“I CAN TELL WHEN YOU LAST-“
“You know that I can hear you? I’m saying ‘what’ because you’re not making any sense!”
“WHAT? Ohh. I can tell when you last had a cold!”
“Wha-ok. Fine. When was that?”
“It was last week.  ..? “
“No it wasn’t”
“That’s right, I was testing you!”
“Were you?”
“Damn straight”
“Uhuh..”
“Well…”
“Yes?”
“Sex.”
 
Being the gentlemen that I am, I cannot tell you how the rest of the night went.
 
Leave plenty of comments my pretties. It has been quite a while, and yes, I have done all of these things.

TiG Reviews: Inferno

Dan Brown strikes me as a particularly efficient traveller.

I can imagine the author of pulpy bestsellers such as The Da Vinci Code on a trip to Florence, Istanbul and other such places, visiting ancient monuments with a notebook and pen, jotting down details furiously while tourists around him click photos. He may be the only one listening intently to what guides really have to say, which explains why in most of his novels there is at least one moment where the lead characters have to consult a tour guide for help.

In Inferno, the latest Renaissance-themed crime thriller by the author that has been adapted to the big screen, his regular protagonist Robert Langdon returns to solve a crime that has world-altering potential (again). As in the previous two movies (The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons), Langdon is played by Tom Hanks. The professor of religious symbology (which is not a real thing, by the way) at Harvard University finds himself in a hospital bed in Florence, bleeding from the head and suffering from short-term memory loss. Luckily for him, he has company of the attractive and female kind in the form of Dr Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones). She’s the doctor at the hospital who speaks with a British accent, aside from speaking flawless Italian and French, and is quick to shield him from a murderous, uniformed policewoman channeling Famke Janssen from GoldenEye (1995).

Truth be told, I get the appeal of Brown’s stories, even though his writing is atrocious. They’re an intriguing blend of history, art, science, and alarmist prophecies with enough twists and turns to keep a viewer sufficiently engaged. With a director like Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon, Rush) on board, one would expect a polished and highly entertaining thriller. However, the problem with Inferno is that it doesn’t seem as though there has been much thought given to making a good film out of it. David Koepp’s screenplay is a by-the-numbers adaptation with clunky dialogue and paper-thin characterisation — the kind you’d expect from a pulpy Bollywood thriller, only with much higher production values.

The film opens with a bearded billionaire named Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who is delivering some sort of TED Talk about the perils of overpopulation. Why anyone would go for this beats me, because all he does is parrot out the most obvious facts about population growth before leaving the stage — his speech has all the heft of a Facebook status. Soon, we see, he is being chased by a group of men in black overcoats, one of whom happens to be played by Omar Sy. This doesn’t end well; Zobrist throws himself off a tower to avoid getting caught.

However, we’re soon told that he had a secret plan that someone else can execute in the event of his death. In keeping with Dan Brown tradition, this isn’t a set of instructions that has been given to said person orally, in writing or via an encrypted device; it’s a series of elaborate clues that requires a Harvard professor’s expertise and active participation without letting him know what the endgame is.

Things get messy soon after, with multiple plot strands creating knots everywhere. Hanks delivers one of his most listless performance in years, opting to play Langdon as a man with an expression on his face that suggests chronic ulcerative colitis. Jones’ talents are wasted in a one-note role. On the other hand, Sy and Sidse Babett Knudsen, as WHO officer Dr Elizabeth Sinskey, are competent enough.

Meanwhile, the movie’s big draw for viewers in India, Irrfan Khan, does not disappoint as Harry ‘Provost’ Sims, the mysterious, enigmatic head of a covert security agency. It’s a weird part to be given — why an Indian man is called Harry Sims is never explained, and the dry, clipped humour suggests a character written for someone like a Jude Law or a Tom Hiddleston. But Khan, despite occasionally losing control of his diction, manages to hold his own and delivers the movie’s funniest and most honest scene, in which he murders a character and deadpans, “Sorry for the messy job.”

He may as well have been apologising for the movie, which goes further south in its third act. As if annoyingly expository dialogue and unbelievable plot twists weren’t bad enough, the movie caps it all by staging a preposterous climax in Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern. All of this is exacerbated by Hans Zimmer’s unremarkable and highly unimaginative background score — definitive proof that the composer is well past his prime and should perhaps call it a day. As should Robert Langdon.

No Clue Why This Was Top Trending in 2016

Last week, a rather unsettling email — which questioned my commitment to my religion (also known as the internet) — landed in my inbox. It claimed that a certain video was the top trending video in 2016 in India and suggested I take a look. Since the year had stopped pretending to be nice or bearable, I assumed that I may have missed it while sobbing about the year’s many tragedies.

This particular episode has 22,883,227 views. To put it into perspective, it is more than the population of Sri Lanka. And what exactly is this video the country has been going nuts over? An episode of The Kapil Sharma Show which had Salman Khan and Anushka Sharma.

Pic Courtesy : YouTube & Sony LIV | Shown Here : Brain Assault

Now there are several reasons I steer clear of anything that has Kapil Sharma and one of the biggest reason is the ‘casual sexism’ it promotes. The permanent fixtures on his show are two cis men, dressed as women. And these characters are meant to be caricatures — foolish, over-the-top, embarrassing and vulgar. Sharma’s ‘best’ jokes involves retorting to their stupid comments with his own wisecracks.
Salman Khan is introduced into the show as soon as it begins, but before that, of course, we have Navjot Singh Sidhu. Sidhu, who can laugh uproariously at everything from air to mosquito bites, opens the show doing just that. Salman Khan enters soon after, looking bored as hell. I never thought I will say this one day but it seemed that he got me.

Four minutes into the show and Kapil Sharma has already cracked a fat joke. “Achcha inki (Salman Khan) body hain, yeh utaar bhi saktein hain…yeh Pandey hain na humara drum wala paaji (the drummer of the band)…achcha ek din usne shirt utaari, pata nahin chal raha tha drum kaun hain, Pandey kaun hain (He {Salman Khan} at least has the body, he can take off his shirt…but our drummer, Pandey…once he took off his shirt, we couldn’t tell which was the drum and which was Pandey).” Navjot Singh Sindhu’s laughter booms, Salman Khan looks tortured.

The jokes then begin to move to some dangerous territory, namely the langot. The very inquisitive Kapil Sharma wants to know what is the reason behind Salman Khan denouncing his pants? Is it the ‘demand of the script’ or female fans? I tried rolling back my eyes farther, I had to dig it from the back of my brain with a scoop spoon.

Five minutes into the show and we have the first homophobic joke.
And voila! Five minutes into the show and we have the first homophobic joke. Salman Khan says, “Demand toh script ki hi thi. Aur, I think female fans se zyada, male fans isko appreciate zyada kar rahein hain. Samajh mein hi nahin aa raha (It was the demand of the script. But I think more than female fans, male fans appreciated this look. It was all very confusing)!” Everyone laughs like they have stumbled upon the best joke of the century.

Yeh kya ho kya gaya hain tumko bhai? Achche bhale toh the (What is happening to you? You were fine till a couple of days ago), ” he adds. “Ulta zamana aa gaya (The times have changed),” says Navjot Singh Sidhu, carrying this atrocity further.

Then out of nowhere, Rochelle Rao, part of The Kapil Sharma Show cast, trots towards Salman Khan, loudly wishing him Eid Mubarak. Kapil Sharma calls her stupid and shows her how to actually wish — he goes and hugs her and she tries to escape his clutches. Just some casual, comical harassment. Don’t we love it?

Kapil Sharma calls her stupid and shows her how to actually wish — he goes and hugs her and she tries to escape his clutches.
Shortly after this, Kiku Sharda appears in a pink costume and after some nonsensical chatter tries to feed what he claims to be ‘stale kheer’ to Salman Khan. Sooooo funny that I could actually feel my brain crackle and burn up.

Again, Khan seems to be the person you will be able to relate to on the set. He laughs, clearly because he has to and has realised that he has a long day ahead of him.

After some good seventeen minutes, Anushka Sharma is introduced. She is a sight for sore eyes and ears. There are some jokes cracked at her expense. Oh you know, those really funny ones on how women can’t drive? Those.

Navjot Singh Sidhu sees an opportunity and does not let it go. He says, “Jinki zulf ko dekh kar banda madmast baadal ho jaaye, Roop aisa qatil ki aashiq bhi pagal ho jaaye, Zaroorat kya hain mohtarma aapko kushti akhare ki, aap muskura do bade se bada pehelwan ghayal ho jaaye.” In all fairness, that seems to be the plot of Sultan.

The most trending video on YouTube, in all probabilities, took a subtle dig at the outrage around the ridiculous analogy.
Describing the experience of kushti, Salman Khan says “I felt like…” and Anushka interrupted. “What?” she asks. As an afterthought he says “…killing those guys.” Kapil Sharma says, “Bada soch samajh ke bolna padta hain aaj kal…aap bhi soch samajh ke hansiye. Sab phasenge (One really has to think before speaking these days…you all should also think before laughing. Or you all will be in trouble).”

If you are wondering what prompted this epiphany, you’ll have to be reminded of that unfortunate moment when Khan compared the rigorous work-out involved in getting a wrestler’s body to that of the physical trauma a raped woman has undergone. The most trending video on YouTube, in all probabilities, took a subtle dig at the outrage around the ridiculous analogy. Yup, what did we tell you about 2016?

Next comes Ali Asgar, dressed in a salwar kameez and jewellery. He makes a pass at Salman Khan, who knows not what to do. I assume we are supposed to find the idea of a cis man, dressed up as a woman, and hitting on another man, funny. At least from the raucous laughter on the sets, I am compelled to feel that I am in a minority.

The next couple of minutes is salvaged by Sunil Grover playing a funny know-it-all doctor called Dr Mashoor Gulati. Those were the actual few minutes in the episode that I stopped wondering who finds this nonsense funny. I think I had Anushka Sharma for company — she was pretending so hard to convince people that she was having fun that I could cry a tear or two for her.

Sometime later, at one point, Sunil Grover and Chandan Prabhakar, dressed as a woman, start a mock wrestle. They pant, they make faces, their wigs come off and the audience sounds like they are having a hard time keeping their stomachs from splitting. Understandable, I was almost in a similar space — only my head was the one at the receiving end of this extreme experience.

TiG Review : Ae Dil…

Note : This review contains spoilers. If you haven’t watched the film and are here, I suggest you don’t watch the film. 

If only real life were like Karan Johar’s movies.

I too want to live a carefree life in London (err, okay, perhaps a city with better weather) where I can be a student but have access to a private jet, hop across to other parts of Europe at will, and go to posh clubs and restaurants. Sure, there are people who have this in reality, but in Johar’s films, people are given professions for cosmetic reasons, the way dressing is added to salads. Everyday realities aren’t always taken into account.

So, in his latest film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Ayan Sanger (Ranbir Kapoor) is purportedly studying for an MBA degree, but secretly harbours dreams of being a singer. Yet, once this is established, it never really comes in the way when Ayan embarks upon impulsive European sojourns with Alizeh (Anushka Sharma), a girl he meets at a club. What does Alizeh do, you ask? There’s some line about working at yoga studios, but mostly she’s a full-time, Bollywood-loving sass (who can be a trifle annoying, truth be told). They meet-cute like Kapoor and Deepika Padukone’s characters in Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha, a film that Ae Dil… has much in common with. There’s plenty of, ahem, classy self-referencing — Johar harks back to lines or moments from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kal Ho Naa Ho multiple times, with no attempt at subtlety. There’s enough self-awareness as well — when two characters speak in chaste Urdu, the script has the good sense to make someone ask, “Have you guys rehearsed this?”

The most controversial film of the year, one that has fought tooth and nail to get to theatres, is perhaps also its most generic. Aside from Tamasha, there’s more than a whiff of Rockstar in here, a pinch of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, and — this may be a bit of a spoiler but unfortunately it merits a mention here — a dash of Katti Batti. Once again, Kapoor plays an immature, entitled, and tortured lover who learns that heartbreak and suffering will benefit his art. Once again, Sharma plays a fast-talking, fully filmi patakha who becomes the object of the leading man’s affection. And once again, the phrase ’till death do us part’ acquires too literal a meaning.

As is the case with all of Johar’s movies, the usage of background music torpedoes the film quite a bit. Pritam’s score sounds like a brief has been followed to the T, with peppy Cuban playing music during allegedly funny scenes (a double-date sequence that attempts to find humour in slut-shaming), and heavy duty strings during emotional ones. Every ebb and flow of emotion is underlined, which ironically ends up diluting the actual impact of the scene instead.

Perhaps the only surprising thing about Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, aside from three starry cameos (one offensively bad, the second satisfactory, and the third absolute disastrous), is Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. She plays Saba, a poet from Vienna, whom Ayan meets on a flight but waits three months to call back; perhaps it’s because she’s annoyingly fluent in shaayari and he isn’t? Anyway, the point being that Bachchan, after a long time, is poised and completely reined in — this may be her best performance in years. Ayan seems completely taken in by her and moves to Vienna to live with her, whilst occasionally dabbling in music so that Pritam’s catchy, hit songs can get great — albeit somewhat unrealistic — picturisations.

I know what you’re thinking: why on earth would anyone look for realism in a Karan Johar movie, right? But it isn’t as much about realism as it is about world-building and honesty. For instance, I have no complaints with choreographed numbers, like ‘Cutiepie’ and ‘The Breakup Song’, because if done well, it’s a form of its own that fits the situations well (one is in a wedding; the other in a nightclub) and don’t really require justification.

But when you deliberately skimp on characterisation in order to simplify your script (i.e. not work harder at it), it shows. For instance, Ae Dil… wants us to think of Alizeh as a free spirit, so it goes out of its way to never really introduce us to, say, her parents or any other friends. Later in the film — don’t say I didn’t warn you about spoilers earlier — when she falls terminally ill with final-stage cancer, she continues to be inexplicably alone, so as to make it easier for Ayan to re-enter her life when the right time comes.

Speaking of the big C, that is the point at which Ae Dil… nosedives. We’re treated to visuals of Kapoor and Sharma wearing fake-looking prosthetic scalps (he ‘shaves’ his head out of solidarity), looking like a cross between Ouro from Paa and the characters from the TV show Alien Nation. A scene in an ambulance makes a valiant attempt at redemption, but for me, the damage done was irreversible. Not only do they look ridiculous — why couldn’t they have actually shaved their heads? — but also because it makes the entire story take a painfully sentimental and predictable turn.

Up until then, it’s generic but mostly harmless fun, with some watchable chemistry between Kapoor and Sharma, and later him with Bachchan. A scene where a drunk Ayan peers into a mirror and fantasises about marrying Alizeh is one of the best scenes, and Kapoor, who is now a bona-fide expert at portraying the emotionally fragile millennial, absolutely nails this part of his performance. Fawad Khan (in a seven-minute role) plays the rakish Ali, a scruffily handsome professional DJ whom Alizeh ends up marrying, is effortlessly charismatic. What a pity we may not get to see him on screen again for a while.

My Encounter With Digital India

A week ago, I decided not to spend money in the wake of demonetization.

Some of my Modi bhakt friends suggested I spend money to keep the economy going. Heeding their advice, I got my weekly rations last week. Not foodgrains, silly, but cash.

Rs 24,000, the government dictated weekly cash quota for all Indians.
I felt great when the bank teller handed me 11 notes of Rs 2,000 and another 20 notes of Rs 100. Before I could tell him I needed change he had summoned the next person in the queue.

Armed with the Rs 2,000 notes, I stumbled on the dawn of Digital India.

With a Rs 2,000 note in hand, I sought to buy three tickets for the Alia Bhatt-Shah Rukh Khan starrer Dear Zindagi at Navina, the single screen theatre near my home.

The man at the ticket counter told me firmly that he would not accept the Rs 2,000 note and if I wanted to watch Dear Zindagi I would have to bring change.

Unfazed, I smiled and showed him my debit card, saying, “Now please accept this. India is going digital. Don’t you know that?”

The ticket seller laughed and said, “Are you serious? Who is going digital? Which India are you talking about?”

“Modiji’s India,” I replied.

“We don’t accept credit or debit cards,” he told me sternly, “If you want to watch the film, bring Rs 480 in change for three tickets. Or go to bookmyshow and book the tickets.”

‘Eureka!’ I thought almost with Archimedean fervour, ‘Modiji’s Digital India works!’

I logged onto bookmyshow and tried to book three tickets using my debit card.
I was startled to discover that the site would bill me Rs 58.20 extra as Internet charges for the three tickets. The extra charge, I guess, is the price one needs to pay for life in Modiji’s Digital India, but I was unwilling to do so.

“You are a fool,” a bhakt friend told me. “Download the Paytm app and then buy the movie tickets. They have many discounts.”

‘Eureka!’ I thought again. ‘Problem solved.’

I tried to download the app on my phone and felt I was entering the Alibaba’s cave of digital riches which Modiji talks about all the time.

In two minutes that illusion too was shattered.

My outdated smartphone responded, saying I didn’t have enough space to download the app.

“Ouch! Now what to do?” I asked my all-knowing bhakt friend.

There is a way out, he said, asking me to move my phone’s memory data to an external memory card, and then install the app.
I would have to buy a 16 GB external memory card for Rs 528 to do that, he added.
“No way am I going to pay Rs 528 extra for a memory card just to watch Dear Zindagi,” I said.

The bhakt was determined that I jump onto the digital bandwagon.
“If you don’t change,” he asked, “how will the rest of India change?”
He helpfully offered to book the movie tickets from his Paytm account.

His fingers moved like the bullet train which Modiji wants us so badly to have on his phone’s display and within seconds he was on Paytm to book my tickets.

Alas!
The Navina theatre was not listed on Paytm and my friend finally gave up.
There were only two options to watch Dear Zindagi. Pay Rs 58.20 extra on bookmy show or fork up the exact change, which I didn’t have.

I opted for the time tested Indian solution, jugaad.
I asked my friend to loan me Rs 480.
And thus ended, for now at least, my ‘Digital India’ dream.

RIP Newshour

Arnab’s leaving. Just saying those words are devastating. As I heard the news, I stared at my TV, uncomfortable with the ensuing silence, an ominous quiet of the future to come, where I can hear birds and my own thoughts.

My TV, if it could speak, wanted to say, “thank you, I can go back to being a normal TV now and not worry about an anchor trying to jump out of me” – but I was in no mood to mollify inanimate Samsung objects. Nor was I up for appreciating smart-ass comedy wit on Twitter :
“You asked for a noise-less Diwali and here it is.”
“The Nation is relieved.”
Blah blah.
Do these cretins not realise that the messiah is not bothered by this juvenile teenage sarcasm? You think 138 characters can bring down a man who can become 138 characters?

Is this the time for humour, when we’ve just lost the only voice on television that was also all the other voices? In the age of comedy, will we not respect the most sacred Indian value of making sure everyone talks at once only to be overridden by the Messiah’s booming, “Just one minute. One minute…”

What, what kind of a world does he leave behind –a world of silence, of listening, of rational discussion, of both sides being right AND wrong – who wants that world? What is this – Canada?

As the great filmmaker Werner Herzog said in his memoir, “Whatever you do in life, always be aware of the bear behind you”. Arnab was the nation’s bear. Now the nation is bear-less. Johnny Cash, the singer once wrote,
There’s a man going around taking names And he decides who to free and who to blame. Everybody won’t be treated all the same when the man comes around.
That man isn’t coming around anymore. Your idiot friends are, some food app delivery boy is – but not Arnab’s justice. So nation, you are announced NOT guilty. What a shame. And who’ll decide your crimes? A court. What is that? Isn’t that just a movie?

Look what justice is now left with – this court place – people wearing black robes like they’re at morning assembly at a convent school guided by clauses written by British men in wigs influenced only by “evidence” (whatever that is).
Real justice – THE man saying to the nation, “I am saying to the nation you did it”- just died. And with that – the hopes of his fans – that someday he’d shoot the people he found guilty live on air. The hope that along-with the piece of paper he holds up with nothing written on it, there’d be a gun in the other hand – alas, will never be.

And how can he just walk away from the nation like this? Those that rely on him for everything. The stoned drunk single 24-year-old man at 3 am for whom Newshour is a trippy dream and his girlfriend. The families who have years of discontent and dysfunction and nothing to say to each other, who get by without confronting their issues by saying, “Did you see what he did last night?” The retired Pakistani generals whose entire post-pension income is based on keeping that moustache curled, looking like a Pakistani general, and ready to be shouted at.

The quiet die-hard right-wing guy in every family whose true colors can only be spotted, (like the near extinct Amazon lizard), when he steps out as himself – by his vehement agreement with Newshour, and you wonder, ‘Wow. This is different guy”. The comedians and satirists, a large chunk of whose income is based on Arnab impressions. Do we really want to live in a world where their children ask, “Dad who are you imitating? Who is that?” The Congress spokesperson who has forgotten how to finish his sentences.
Arnab has abandoned them, just like he would when something logical was beginning to be said on the show and he’d shout, “Rubbish. Ad break.”
What will happen to these people? What other test is there for Gen X and Y now to truly understand that their parents are mad, except the Newshour?
Still, all is not lost.

Like he rises from his bear repose by threatening “never ever ever never” to someone accusing him of taking a bribe, he will rise again. By sitting, that is. On an anchor’s desk. The kraken will be unleashed again.

He mentioned something about starting a news empire that can take on the CNN/ BBC hegemony. Amen. Why take on – overtake is my hope. Why aim just for this planet’s news media domination? Maybe one day it becomes so big that it is broadcast to other planets so any intelligent life out there will be convinced not to contact us.
We, his devotees, are ready for Arnab TV, modeled along the lines of Trump TV perhaps (but even bigger because Trump is small fry). As a sleight to NDTV 24/7, perhaps called Arnab 24/7. Yes Arnab from 8 am – nervous breakdown with morning coffee.

Sadly, they say the world is not ready for all this. That’s why he’s taking a break. In journalism they say that when something happens in the world, journalists are ready. In his case, he’s ready – now he has to make the world ready.
Till then, I will watch, in depressed annoyance, regional channels like the BBC; the old age home of journalism with informed people “listening to each other” (useless).
And as Shakespeare said in As You Like It, I will say to HIM:
“Hereafter, in a better world than this, I shall desire more love and knowledge of you”.

The Harry Potter World Is Weird

Now now, before you all begin to hate me without reading what I have to say, please know that I’m a huge fan of the series, and I believe it is one of the most captivating books of this century perhaps. But that being said, it doesn’t overshadow the fact that the Harry Potter World doesn’t make any sense from time to time. Even to a fan like me. I’d explain.

See, I’ve been introduced to Harry Potter pretty late. I was in middle school when the books came out and I thought to myself, “oh a book about wizard, okay”, and that was that. Then my friends read it and started telling me all about it, and I came to know about Harry Potter and his owl, which surprisingly did little to appeal to my interests.

I came around in my teens when I actually started reading the books, courtesy my girlfriend who was a huge Potterhead and made me read them when she found out that I didn’t find them interesting enough to start. And I loved it! I loved how easy it was to imagine yourself in the world, and I really enjoyed some of the characters… but there were problems. A lot of problems. Brace yourselves, its going to be a long post :

Hogwarts produces Level 1 wizards, if that. I’m referring here to the shorthand for approximating relative power levels between characters in role-playing games, but to translate: Wizards spend 7 years in school at Hogwarts, and at the end of it, most of them can’t do anything more impressive than momentarily animate someone’s boogers. And we think modern education in the real world teaches nothing.

The power balance makes no sense. This folds into the last item, but ridiculously powerful artifacts and spells are everywhere and frankly not all that hard to acquire. The main characters routinely find, use, and create them; mysteriously, no one else seems interested in bothering. For one example: the time-turner is the kind of magic that could break reality — I guarantee you Tom Riddle would have enslaved the planet in a matter of a week if he’d got his hands on it — but the school freely lends it out to Hermione, and then all she can think of to do with it is take extra classes. And I haven’t even gotten into how Britain’s most intelligent, most ruthless, and overall best wizards can be handily defeated by simple ruses, elementary spells, and “love.”

Also, the Harry Potter World is peopled with too few wizards who are potently deadly duelists. Try to make a list of the 10 strongest wizards. What do you have? Dumbledore, Voldemort, Grindelwand? Then what? Snape or McGonagall? That’s a huge drop off.

The wizard economy makes no sense. Apart from a very narrow industrial sector for wizarding goods and a few service-oriented businesses, what markets does the economy even have? How does anyone get a paying job? (They may not be congruent with book canon, but the movies depict hundreds or possibly thousands of people working at the Ministry of Magic — so is the whole thing underpinned by deliberate maintenance of unnecessary layers of processing and bureaucracy, like Japan taken to an insane extreme?) It’s not a post-scarcity economy because there are rich people and poor people, somehow — and money MUST have a value, or else Gringotts wouldn’t have such ridiculous security. I would surmise that the only economy in popular fiction that makes even less sense than the Harry Potter economy is the Hunger Games economy, but that’s another post.

What happened to wizard academia? Dumbledore published magical research papers in his teens and bonded with Grindelwald, a similarly accomplished young man of powerful intellect — then they fight, and then it’s never mentioned again! Where did all the wizard researchers go? Were they the only two? Does anyone even care by the time Harry comes around, or has wizarding suffered an anti-intellectual devolution across Dumbledore’s lifetime? Maybe this ties into the repeated demonstrations in the books of wizards’ willful stupidity about the non-wizarding world.

Why is there NO collaboration between the wizarding and muggle worlds at ANY level, even in secret? No mudbloods bring their families into the fold at all, not even with an eye for criminal activity? The SAS doesn’t have one wizard special forces unit? (I could believe that MI5 and MI6 keep that stuff way under wraps.) Rufus Scrimgeour is content to just tell the PM a bunch of cryptic BS about the war and peace out, not to petition for any kind of help?

The plot is totally predictable. The only real surprise in the plot is Snape’s backstory.

Almost none of the major conflicts are between well-matched opponents, so few of the conflicts have any tension or excitement. Sometimes there’s something like the fight between Voldemort and Dumbledore, but most of the time the heroes have been loaded up in advance with every possible ace against the much more powerful bad guys, or you know they can’t lose because it wouldn’t make sense for them to lose for narrative reasons. The only attempt to balance this out is with good guy deaths, most of which are non sequitur, offscreen, or both.

The four Houses of Hogwarts actually exist to delineate story roles. Forget all that hooey about personality traits. Gryffindor is good guys, Slytherin is bad guys, Ravenclaw is Gryffindor’s B team, and Hufflepuff… occasionally produces a human shield for Harry (RIP Diggory and Tonks).

None of the romances are believable. Characters just get together at random. Very often there’s never even a hint about why any two characters are attracted to each other. (Before you say “it’s a children’s book,” read almost any other children’s or Young Adult book with a love story.)

But really, in my opinion, the single worst thing is:

The main three characters are the most boring characters in the books. I couldn’t get enough of Dumbledore, Snape, Sirius, the other Blacks and the adult Malfoys, Gilderoy Lockhart, and lots of other B and C list characters who are colorful, interesting, and well-realized in the story. But for most of the series, Harry is just a thing being pushed along by the adults around him and by revelations about the past; the narration gives us his immediate reactions, but it takes him a very long time to grow any personality. I found myself somewhat bewildered as to why any of the adults were so fond of him, apart from pleasant memories of his mother (couldn’t have been because they missed his asshole dad). Meanwhile, Hermione and Ron hardly rate any individuality. Hermione exists to provide trivia ex machina that instantly solves problems, and Ron exists to provide random solutions ex machina when Hermione’s been overused. And Ron’s demonstrated abilities aren’t even consistent with his behavior (he’s brilliant at wizard chess, yet he’s the dopey idiot in every other situation)?

It’s a testament to the books’ power that in spite of all of the above flaws, they’re still great fun to read and I don’t consider my time spent on them wasted at all. If nothing else, they’ve led to lots of fun discussions and arguments with my girlfriend!

(Most of the ideas here were actually her’s).

The Art Of Killing Mosquitoes

Day 9

Mosquito hunting with the electrical bat can surprisingly be quite therapeutic. Especially during study holidays when one frequently feels the need to maim or seriously injure.

It also comes with a LED torch in case you need something bigger than a mosquito, hiding behind the closet, to electrocute to death.

I don’t know what function the torch has in electrocuting mosquitoes to death.

And I’ve only broken one glass so far.

I actually think they should make it into an Olympic sport. Send in a guy with a fully charged mosquito bat, and give him +10 for every dead mosquito and -5 for every bite. And a disqualification for breaking anything, just to keep things interesting.

The Laws Of Study Vacations

Day 13

Over the past few days, I’ve made a remarkable observation – the laws governing study vacations are as fundamental as Newton’s laws of motion. Here is a comprehensive guide :

Law of diminishing returns – During the study vacation, there is, on average, a 10% decrease in the total amount of studying that is done on any given day, as compared to the preceding day.

This trend, however, is abruptly reversed and accompanied with a sudden surge in both vigor and panic, at a specific point in time (the “break point”) which usually occurs no earlier than 48 hours before the start of the exam (by which time, of course, the outcome of the examination has become inevitable, and the probability of altering it tends to zero).

Law of failed adherence – No timetable, without exception, however well-planned and seemingly practicable, will ever work as planned or be successfully implemented. This holds good for timetables that extend over months, weeks, days, hours, or even intervals of 10 minutes.

Law of extraneous influences – In the process of attempting to study, all things unrelated to the study material become supremely fascinating, and the student feels an obsessive and compulsive need to stare at blank walls, update blogs and play Criminal Case.

Law of successful recollection (applicable primarily to science students) – If the student possesses the ability to recollect, with reasonable accuracy, just one paragraph from one page after intensive reading for one hour, then the period of study shall be deemed to have been sufficiently productive.

Law of wishful thinking – Every student begins to incessantly replay some impossible fantasy in his/her mind, always ending with some disastrous event (like a gigantic asteroid hitting the college) that results in the cancellation of the approaching exam.

P.S. No asteroid did, unfortunately, crash into my college. I checked.