Monday, February 28, 2011

Indian Film Classics: Godavari (2006) Telugu

"Godavari" is one of the best romantic comedies made in the last decade or so. It is joyous, it is entertaining, it is enduring and it is that kind of movie which lends itself to repeat watching. It has a very idealistic hero, Sriram (played by Sumanth), who having recently returned from the US after finishing his higher studies, tries to pursue things close to his heart. He likes serving people, so he approaches two leading political parties in his hometown and asks them to hire him for serving the people - the party guys struggle to comprehend his straight arrow idealism, and gently inform him about the ways of the world, and try to nudge him away. Sriram keeps at them.

Sriram has a soft corner for his cousin and wants to marry her, while her father (his uncle) arranges for her to marry a very socially/status-wise eligible guy (who is an IPS officer). When Sriram confronts his Uncle, his Uncle retorts saying: "What do you have? Do you even have the basic minimum stuff to get married, do you have a bank balance, if someone gives you some money, the first thing you will do is to run around to find a person to give it away - I cannot marry off my girl to a guy like you". For this, Sriram replies that he can earn money whenever needed. His cousin doesn't really reciprocate his feelings either. She is the kind of girl who likes guys to open doors for her, offer to help her with her bags when she shops, and take her to high-end restaurants to have tea.

And there is our heroine, Seeta (played by Kamalinee Mukerjee), who struggles to keep her boutique alive and runs around showing her samples to potential customers. She (along with millions of other Indian girls) is pestered by her parents to get married, as she is in her mid twenties, and there is nothing better to do in your mid-twenties than to get married. Seeta doesn't like guys who do a 9-5 job, think only about a retirement plan, fantasize about buying a plot of land in the suburbs and start procreating immediately. Against her protests, her parents convince her to meet a guy - who she ends up thinking as not so bad.

Then comes the river Godavari. Sriram and Seeta end up meeting each other on a boat trip on Godavari (the boat is an improvised contraption, which is sort of a Indian cruise ship, with many small boats tied together). Sriram is traveling to attend his cousin's wedding to the IPS guy and Seeta on a personal journey, traveling alone, to think and reflect, after the guy whom she okays to marry rejects her, opining that she is a bit "too fast" for him.

Of course, they meet, they fight, they reconcile, they get closer to each other, and the cousin character intervenes. The cousin dilly-dallies about her decision to marry the IPS guy and ruminates on marrying Sriram. This complicates things and leads to misunderstandings. And of course, Sriram and Seeta finally reunite. This story arc has been followed in a thousand movies. But not many of them work the way "Godavari" does.

More than 3/4ths of the movie takes place on the boat on Godavari. There is an assortment of characters on the boat - the feisty dosa-lady, the trip manager, a balloon-seller-kid who has his own problems, and a talking dog. Yes, a talking dog (actually several talking dogs and a talking parrot as well), which provides an additional comedy track by giving a commentary on the proceedings from its perspective. Some might say putting a talking dog in a modern movie is going over the top - but, hey, it works and the dog is funny, and that's what matters.

The characters of the hero, heroine, the cousin, the uncle, the IPS guy are all so well etched out, they almost risk becoming caricatures. It is a good-hearted movie, and has its priorities in the right place. The hero and the heroine have a mind of their own and are progressive. Even when the system pulls them this side and that, they are determined to stay the way they are. They are not gods. They are just decent people who believe that the world could be a better place and work towards it. These characters are reinforcements of goodness in a world where the majority of the people are either lost, corrupt, have given up or just plain don't give a damn.

The movie was directed by Shekar Kamulla (whose "Anand" is another little gem). He thinks and works and directs like he is channeling the great American idealist/director Frank Capra (whose movies are a must watch for people interested in movies, entertainment or idealism). Shekar deals with idealism, but his movies are not drab. They are funny. The dialogues sparkle with humor and intelligence, and the humor is observed and well earned. The music is another major strength of the movie - all the songs have a classical strain to them and along with the background score provide a warm and soothing blanket to the movie.

I had a roommate in grad school, who used to watch this film all the time. When I'd come back for lunch - he'd be holding his plate and eating in a trance, watching this film. When I'd come back in the evening, he'd have started watching the film (from where he left off in the afternoon). And I remember at least a 3-4 month stretch in which this would be a daily occurrence in our apartment. The sun rose and set, the cats mewed and fell quiet and he watched Godavari. In parts, as a whole, day in and day out.

I have a VCD of the film (which I obtained after much searching through Landmark, Hyderabad) - which I watch every 2 months. I would watch it more often, but it takes about that time for my memory to fade and for me to forget the details and revisit the film. There are some occasions when you wish your memory is poorer and you forget things sooner.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cricket? I don't think so!

I don't think cricket is the best of games to play. I am not talking from the perspective of the IPL players or the Indian team who get paid a gazillion rupees for each game, irrespective of whether they are in the playing eleven or not, or even if they are part of the eleven, whether they get to play or not. If someone gives me that much money, I'll keep my trap shut and not complain about the nature of the "game", and this post wouldn't exist.

I am talking from the perspective of the average kid, who haunts the city gullies and the suburban grounds, for whom cricket is a daily reality, and has to deal with the joys and pains of playing the game. That kid happens to be almost every kid in Indian cities and towns. That kid happens to be me.

I played cricket for a long long time. I remember first playing when I was 10 or so, when I went with a friend to a school cricket ground nearby. The elder kids were playing a match and I tried to appear as cool and as knowledgeable as possible (and from looking back would have appeared utterly silly and inconsequential to the 15 year olds playing that day). Starting that day, my playing days continued for a solid decade, before it trailed off.

I was an average batsman, and a below-average bowler. Though I could muster up some wicked half-spin on the ball (when bowling underarm or playing throw), I was never a great bowler. I was the kid who will get to bat somewhere in the nether lands of the batting order - when all the "top" batsmen (read utter cool kids) are out, and before the super-clumsy kids get to play. I was good sometimes. But average to above-average most of the times. I have had my moments of glory - like when in a colony match, I played for 4/5ths of the innings to get my team very close to victory, only to lose by 2 runs. Don't worry - I got my "man-of-the-match" award and my plastic tiffin-box with a cartoon sticker on it during the colony's annual day.

And, my memory of the game consists of mostly waiting around for an interminable amount of time, either fielding or watching the others in your team play (to the chants of "come-on da, good batting, good batting"), and then 5-10 minutes of pressure filled batting stints, and a couple of overs of bowling in an evening of play. Thinking back, or even then, one couldn't pick a more boring and non-participatory game to play.

Basically, playing cricket involves sitting and standing and mulling around for the majority of the game (unless you are the wicket keeper or the captain or the star batsman or bowler). What a bore (for others). On the other hand think of badminton or kabadi or some game like that. You play a game, and win or lose, it is your effort - and you are there and engaged and playing every single moment the game is underway. Of course, in such games, there is also waiting around till you get your turn - but when you get to play - you play for the duration of the game. You don't get out in the first over and wait around for a thousand years to get your chance again.

Of course, there are joys in playing cricket, but most of it is in the periphery. Like the camaraderie you enjoy in being part of a team. Like the joys of rising early morning to hit the cricket ground. And the joy of staying back somewhere close to your ground in the evening, after it is dark, and yapping away with your friends, and arriving late home for dinner. The joy of holding a cricket bat. Its feel. And practicing your batting stance and strokes by yourself, hitting the imaginary ball endlessly, and admiring the correctness of your strokes and follow-ons. The pleasure of holding a tennis ball or cricket ball in your hand. And, the pleasure of practicing your "Richard-Hadlee-level" bowling action when you are walking alone on a road, for the thousandth time. It does have its pleasure points. And it is pretty nice when you are in a rhythm and bat and everything works out.

But as a game, how interesting or engaging is it for the majority of its players - not much is my answer. Play cricket. But also, pick another game, where you could actually spend more than 6% of the time you spend on the ground/court actually playing, and not just sitting around and watching things unfold.