Prasthanam - Movie Review

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Movie Name: Prasthanam
Language: Telugu
Director: Deva Katta
Starring: Sai Kumar, Sharwanand, Sandeep Kishan, Jeeva, Jai Prakash Reddy, Ruby Parihar, Surekha Vani etc
Cinematography: Shyam Dutt
Music: Mahesh Shankar

Spolier Alert: Some spoilers ahead, suspense and climax are not revealed but may spoil some fun while watching.

In our life we face moral dilemmas, we are constantly forced to pick sides or make choices. Love, Emotions and Duty conflict and make us oscillate between choices. Life also provides us rare opportunities, tantalizing prospects, which are just one immoral choice away. Men are defined by the decisions they take during such times, which alter the very course of their lives and of those intertwined with them. And when confronted with the truth, despite all our excuses and reasons, our conscience knows the true nature of us. Deva Katta's Prasthanam is about all of the above, it is an engrossing family drama, with a dose of political machinations and questions on life thrown in.

The Story: A family patriarch and a much loved local leader who was elected unopposed for many years suddenly faces competition from an upstart, who is a local liquor contractor and a goon. When the patriarch choses to retire from public life than face a potentially ugly electoral battle, his son steps up to take his place and fight the election, despite his father's advice to the contrary who feels his son with a young family is better off not getting into the murky world of politics. The son is supported in this endeavour by his loyal friend Lokanatham/Loki (Sai Kumar). During the campaign, the son of attacked by the contractor and his goons and he dies enroute to being taken home. An enraged Loki and his close friend, Basha extract revenge and kill the contractor. The patriarch is devastated by the loss of his only son and seeing the prospects of an insecure life for his young daughter in law and little grand children, extracts promise from Loki to become his son and marry his widowed daughter in law. Loki reluctantly agrees and inherits a son, Mitra and a daughter. Mitra, seeing Loki avenge his father's death devotes himself to Loki and adores him while the daughter, being more elder and perhaps not coming to terms with her own father's death and an outsider beside her mother, starts hating him. Loki and family leave, along with his own friends to make a better life in Vijayawada.

The story now shifts to Vijayawada. Loki is shown to now have a blood son through his wife, in addition to Mitra and the daughter. Loki quickly rises to become the MLA and is shown to be fighting for the cause of justice and the poor people earning him the MLA seat repeatedly. His sudden rise, him being an outsider and his rubbing some big people the wrong way earn him enemies who plot his downfall. Chief among those are BasiReddy (Jeeva) and Bangaru Naidu (Jaiprakash Reddy). On the family front, Mitra (Sharwanand) grows up to become a trusted confidante of his father, alongside his father's friend Basha and others. He also enjoys a great following among his father's friends who clearly see him as their beloved leader's heir and as their next leader, especially seeing that Loki is planning his succession and grooming Mitra to take over after him. Loki's own son Chinna (Sandeep Kishan) is now grown up and in college. The daughter hates Loki even now, she hates her mother even more for bearing a child for Loki. She is estranged and lives with her husband, kid and husband's sister. The only link between the two families is Mitra.

Deva Katta sets up the movie brilliantly now. Chinna becomes an angry young man, who sees himself as a rightful heir to his father. He also despises Mitra for his closeness to his father and his father's succession plans and advice to Chinna to go into business and leave politics to Mitra. Chinna feels he should become the next leader, while Loki tells him leadership is to be earned and not given as a gift or a legacy. He also hates Mitra for trying to correct him and mend his ways, seeing these as attempts to discourage him and undermine him. One day he accidentally kills his girl friend and seeks help from his father and his sister (who is the doctor who does the post mortem on his girlfriend) to bail him out. Loki's rivals who see an opportunity to get even with Loki begin their machinations.

What follows is a brilliantly written and wonderfully acted family drama where the strength of each character and his own ideals is tested. Loki, who is shown to be absolutely sure of himself, his own ideals and beliefs, now starts wavering. Mitra, who shares the same ideals and beliefs of his father is now forced to confront a new reality. Chinna, burning with jealously, anger and hatred threatens to bring down everything Loki has created and nurtured. As the movie hurtles towards a brilliant climax, Deva Katta choses to reveal more truths which changes the entire basis of the movie.

SaiKumar as Loki
Sai Kumar is brilliant as Loki and his character perhaps has the most scope out of all characters in the movie. He goes through the entire range of emotions in the movie and nails each one. He also gets the best dialogues in the film and who better than the master of dialogue delivery to belt those out. Seeing him in this role, one cant escape the feeling that Sai Kumar should have chosen to do more such roles instead of Hero roles. But this is a brilliant turn for him, and hopefully he gets more such chances.
Sharwanand as Mitra
Sharwanand has this terrific ability of picking wonderful movies and roles to star in (after Vennela, Gamyam, Amma Cheppindi). More than the ability, one needs to appreciate his conviction to do the kind of roles that complete him as an actor instead of joining the rat race for super stardom like the star sons. His character does not have the same breadth as that of Sai Kumar, but is still a powerful role, that of an idealistic young man who has absolute conviction in his own beliefs but which are tested by the very same people he has learnt them from. He carries off the role effortlessly, underplaying crucial scenes, which in my opinion show the anguish and trauma he is going through.
Sandeep Kishan as Chinna
All those wannabe young actors out there be very jealous of this kid. He gets a cracker of a role in his first movie (or one of his first, I am not sure) and he lives the dream in this one. His character is one-dimensional, his emotions are jealousy, anger and hatred. But that doesn't mean its easy. Its sometimes more difficult to play a character which has more depth than breadth. He nails it to perfection as a burning young man consumed by his his own fears and insecurities.
The rest
This is one movie which gives ample scope for each character. Except the heroine and Mitra's side kick, everyone else including the mother, the daughter, Loki's confidantes, the rivals including Jeeva get meaty roles which run the length of the film and are all well acted. It is to Deva Katta's credit that he manages to make the story engrossing by involving everyone in the plot.

Technical Aspects:
The heart of the movie is the story, its body is a brilliant premise and a cracker of a climax, while the actors are the blood. The dialogues are terrific at places, especially those between the 3 main characters. By terrific I do not mean, the roaring punch dialogues of Paruchuri brothers. They are more like the thoughtful, philosophical dialogues of Trivikram Srinivas. For example, Mitra is beaten up in front of Loki, who talks of Dharma and says his Dharma is to protect his son, Mitra touches his feet and says that as far as he is concerned Loki is his father. I will be doing an injustice if I try to translate them from the original Telugu. The background score by Mahesh Shankar and the cinematography by Shyam Dutt are excellent and complement the story well. The background score especially maintains the intensity of the movie.

Having said all that, there are a few things that Deva Katta should have taken care of. The first glaring issue is the comedy track (with Vennela Kishore), which should have been removed totally. The comedy track with Jaya Prakash Reddy at least fits in a bit with the main story but Vennela Kishore's track is not needed, especially because it reduces the intensity at crucial moments and increases the length. The same can be said about the romantic thread and the heroine. I have heard that a couple of songs were cut after release which is a good decision given the length of the movie. But in the end I am only nit picking, and I understand that directors have to live with the pressures to make their films commercially viable. Despite this, Prasthanam is an immensely watchable movie.

Bottom Line:
Deva Katta should be applauded for taking his time after Vennela and chosing a nice story. He could have chosen to make a Hero centric story and commercialize it as there is scope for it, but he instead chose to make it more realistic and focus on the emotions of the characters. A pat on the backs of the producers who believed in the director and gave him the freedom to make it on his own terms. Directors like Deva Katta, Chaitana Dantuluri (of Banam fame), Sai Kiran Adivi (of Vinayakudu fame), Krish Jagarlamudi (of Gamyam fame) etc should be encouraged to come up with movies like these. We need them as much as we need star directors like Puri Jagannath, SS Rajamouli and co.

I don't believe in rating movies using stars as it takes away the enjoyment of the film and passes judgement about films and makes comparisons over a quarter or half point. You can also take the easy route and just rate the film between 3-3.5 out of 5 and don't expose yourself to criticism. Ratings are a bad way to assess a movie, yes they are objective but they don't tell the full story. I will only say that I strongly recommend the movie for the brilliant story, wonderful acting, philosophical and deep dialogues and an ingenious climax.

Much has been said and written about the Telugu audiences and how they do not appreciate good stories and only care for the bigger stars and their mass masala movies. In my opinion, that is not a correct assessment. Most of the non - mass masala hit movies are rejected by the audiences because they are poorly written and are formulaic. If directors and script writers can come up with good stories, ingenious plot lines, taut screen plays and if producers have the guts to back them and market the movies well, there is no reason why Telugu audiences wont appreciate and accept such movies. If you deliver mediocrity, after a while the acceptance standards fall. But if you provide choice and make intelligent movies, with in a good budget and market them well then such movies will also be commercially viable and critical successes as well.

Tail Piece:
If you are in India watch it on the big screen, but like me if you are at a place where the only access to Telugu movies is through high speed Internet access, I urge you to watch the official online version of the movie available here:
You can watch if for just $ 1.99, which is a pittance and in fact less than what you would pay for a multiplex ticket in India. There are obviously choices to watch it free, but if we encourage film makers to make available their movies in this way, we can get to watch official, high quality versions and reduce piracy. Who knows, a day might not be far away when a Mahesh Babu or Ram Charan Teja or a Jr NTR movie (or another Prasthanam or another Banam or another Gamyam) will be available in this fashion, first day first show. Why watch shoddy/unclear pirated versions for free when the alternative is to watch official versions for less than a ticket price in India? I take this opportunity to thank Deva Katta, the producers and Rajshri who had the foresight to make this medium of distributing films available to us 'telugu cinema pichollu'.

Lies, Damn Lies and Accounts

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

2009 could not have started on a worse note. S Ramalinga Raju, one of the torchbearers of Indian Outsourcing story admitted to his board of serious fraud, cooking up numbers and bloating the balance sheet and profits over a long period of time. Together with the ban by the World Bank for data theft, the botched Satyam-Maytas deal, this completes the cycle of bad news for Satyam. This is fraud of monumental proportions, at the very top of one of India's most successful IT services companies and can only be compared to what happened over at Enron. This is without doubt corporate India's biggest fraud ever.

That S Ramalinga Raju, one of India's most respected entrepreneurs could resort to such tactics comes as a blow to the image of promoter led companies in India. But more surprising is how he duped investors, regulators and his own employees consistently over a period of time. I deliberately missed adding auditors in that list. Auditors cannot be duped, auditors are not supposed to be duped. PWC, as lead auditors of Satyam were supposed to have caught these lies, but they did not. If they were complicit (like Arthur Anderson have been in the Enron crisis), then their image will take a blow and they too have to face the legal system in India and US (where Satyam is listed). But if they are not complicit, and have also been duped then it raises serious questions on their competence. Especially because, auditors are expected to do audit confirmation directly or indirectly, by checking with the company in question as well as other external sources like their bankers, customers etc. That such fraud of monumental proportions missed the auditors cannot be digested.

The fiasco comes as a blow to the Indian IT services and Indian companies in general especially since most are promoter led. Only now have companies which were started as entrepreneurial ventures or family owned businesses (or where promoters hold majority stake) are going in for professional managements, which is accepted the world over as a good way to avoid governance issues. Corporate Governance has always been a sticky issue in India, but to see a company that has been given an award for Best Corporate Governance to admit such wrong doing is not palatable at all. The role of regulators has been questioned by some of the media, but there is precious little regulators can do if CEOs lie through their teeth. Indian laws may be inadequate in this respect, but Satyam is listed on NYSE and hence is supposed to be compliant of SOX, but even with those checks they managed to getaway. This issue also tarnishes the reputation of Indian IT companies, since they have more often than not chosen to take moral high ground and endeavored to distinguish themselves from the manufacturing sector.

A lot of people have been let down by Ramalinga Raju, his family, Satyam investors (both in India and abroad), Satyam's clients, his board etc. But the people who would feel the most cheated would be Satyam's employees, those unnamed thousands who slog day in and out in an industry which is now facing the brunt of an economic slowdown. They now face uncertainty, tough questions (from their peers and most importantly their clients) and a tense few months ahead. Satyam might be prime target for an acquisition now, with its share price at an abysmal low, but the question is if anyone would dare buy a company deep in losses, straddled with a large workforce and uncertainty over engagements with new/existing clients. For Indian IT companies, Satyam would not be of much value add since it would be like buying more of the same, there is absolutely no difference between Satyam and other Indian IT companies in terms of engagements, process lines, domain expertise and geographical footprint. It will be a tough few months ahead. Hope Satyam's employees do not have to bear the burden of their top management's greed and inefficiency.

This unfortunate crisis proves that there are no holy cows in business. And there could not be a greater irony that the CEO and founder of a company whose name means Truth lied through his teeth.

A hundred 9/11s

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The nightmare has finally come to an end. 60 hours, almost 200 casualties, 500 odd injured, millions of dollars lost, a city wounded, a nation shaken and a world shocked. The terrorists are all dead, the drama on TV is over and Mumbai is limping back to normalcy. What caught my attention is how the media (both Indian and Intl) is dubbing this India's 9/11. But then India did have many more terrorist attacks, so why point this out as our 9/11. The international media can be forgiven for not taking note (or not giving as much importance) of these other acts of terrorism, but surely the Indian media should know better. The argument goes that while we had other acts of terrorism, only this one caught the imagination of the world for its barbarity, cold bloodedness and ingenuity. The response this time has been of even more anger, pain, accusations and demand for answers. But the fact is that each one of those acts of terror over the past 15 years (and more so over the course of 2008) hurt! The fact is that we had a hundred 9/11s. And we were hurt and angry for each one of those! And we demanded answers and action from the Govt for each one of those! But precious little was done or learnt from the terror strikes, apart from the fact that we learnt we are a weak state and a soft target.

The post-mortem has now begun for this 9/11, by the Govt, the opposition, the media and the people. Heads have rolled, the much reviled Shivraj Patil has finally resigned, and so did the chief of IB and the Home Secretary. Chidambaram is the new Home Minister and I am sure the other posts would be filled soon. As many would argue these are mere symbolic gestures and unless we see more systemic changes there is every chance that we will keep having these 9/11s. So what needs to be done? Where are the faults?

  1. First and foremost is to beef up our intelligence agencies. While we keep getting intelligence from time to time, it clearly is not enough and is not distributed well (more on that in the next point). But we need to bring up our intelligence agencies on par with the best of the world. We have the agencies (RAW, IB, police and naval intelligence etc), but it is clear that while the set up is present the capabilities are not up to the mark. If that means taking the help of the best in the world like CIA, Mossad, FSB (the successor of KGB in present day Russia). Its time we let reality take precedence over pride. And this is in no way demeaning our agencies, I am sure they try to do a stellar job, but everyone gets rusty from time to time. The other thing is that in the changing geo-political scenario India, US and Israel (and Russia to some extent) find themselves fighting similar enemies (if not the same). More so for Israel and US, they have ensured that they are capable of protecting their citizens on their own soil but they now realize that their citizens are soft targets outside their countries where they cannot do anything but watch. The enhancement of capabilities should be of both TECH INT (technical intelligence, like intercepts, at which India seems to be doing pretty good) and also HUM INT (human intelligence, at which we are supposed to be pretty weak).
  2. Enhancing capabilities is one thing, ensuring the available intelligence is passed on to the relevant agencies at the right time is another. For the Mumbai attacks, there seem to be two different but very authentic sources of intelligence (US and RAW) which warned of attacks by sea. But somehow this did not flow down to the relevant authorities in Mumbai, atleast that's the defence of those in charge. This is even worse than having no intelligence. Having no coordination after it has been gathered is almost a crime, especially after the millions spent to set up and support the infrastructure and when lives are at stake. What India needs is a central organization that analyses and disseminates information across the country, to the states, to the relevant departments, ministries etc. This organization need not necessarily gather intelligence, as we already have the agencies for that.
  3. The National Security Guards (NSG), who did such a stellar job in the current crisis have proved beyond doubt that they are equal to, if not better than other similar agencies in the world. To conduct such an operation with comparatively less loss of human lives, especially when there were more than a thousand guests in both hotels and when the terrorists were unwilling to negotiate, speaks volumes of their efficiency. We do not have a problem of numbers here, NSG has around 7500 members ( and have proved to be capable of handling simultaneous, long drawn crises like in the events of past few days. However one glaring issue is that NSG is based out of New Delhi and moving them to crisis sites has proven to be a huge logistical nightmare. 10 hours between start of crisis and landing of NSG at crisis sites is simply not acceptable. This is not a fault of the NSG, they are as good as what the Govt does (which is requesting their assistance). But without waiting for the logistical nightmares to be resolved, NSG should have regional commands (atleast in the 4 metros, to start with), so that even of the request for their help comes late, NSG can reach the site in the shortest possible time. I am sure the NSG is a very well equipped force (unlike our police who use outdated weapons), but they atleast need a few helicopters or planes permanently on standby, close to where they are stationed to move them to the crisis sites pronto (apparently they waited for a plane to come from Chandigarh to New Delhi and transfer them to Mumbai and then for BEST buses to transfer them to the 3 hot spots)
  4. The much stretched and much reviled police forces should immediately get a facelift, in terms of weapons, equipment, technology, personnel, training etc. Policing is a state subject, but the Centre should take the initiative to lay down the guidelines of police forces in all the states and provide all possible help (monetary, equipment etc) to modernize them. Police forces too should have elite units, akin to SWAT in US (probably similar to GreyHounds of AP State Police) that can immediately reach crisis spots and handle the situation until NSG reaches there. Not all cities have Naval commands and army commands (which allowed the MARCOS and Army to handle the situation until the NSG arrived).
  5. Providing NSG commandos to VIP and VVIP security should cease immediately. Currently NSG commandos are loaned to the SPG (Special Protection Group) which is responsible for VIP security. If needed, raise a separate elite force for protection for enhace capabilities of SPG to the level of NSG. But NSG should be available only for anti-terror, hostage rescue and other such operations for which it was created and not for running behind ruddy politicians. If the politicans have an iota of remorse left in them, they will voluntarily give up NSG protection. But as we know for them NSG protection is a status symbol, hence the state should act and remove this with immediate affect.
  6. The borders should be protected better, that includes land, mountains and sea. Fence the entire border around India, land that is, even if it means spending thousands of crores of tax payers money. That includes borders with hostile neighbours (like Pakistan), friends (Nepal, Bhutan etc) and the ones in between (Bangladesh). No other illegal immigrant should enter India. Fencing would not be enough, technology used be used to the fullest extent (like at the US-Mexico border) and so should more personnel. This would not solve the problem of illegal immigration and infiltration a hundred percent, but no one should think it would be easy to just enter India.
  7. The same should be extended to the maritime borders, not the fencing of course but use of technology and increased patrols. This obviously is more difficult than anything else said above and easier said than done, with approx 6000 kms of maritime border and territorial waters of 12 nautical miles but if the efforts could at least make it difficult for those who think they can just ride a boat up to our shores without being confronted. Coast Guard and local police patrolling the maritime borders and who are responsible for protecting our coasts, should again be the beneficiaries of spending in this area.
  8. The current pilot project of issuing National Identity Cards should immediately be implemented for the entire country. This will not solve the problem of illegal immigrants who have already made this their home and the numerous sleeper cells that have already penetrated into our country, but this will be some kind of deterrent in the future.
  9. Bring back strong anti terror legislation, TADA or POTA whatever it is called in whatever form (for example Maharashtra has MCOCA, Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act which allowed the police to hold the only captured terrorist at an undisclosed location and without filing an FIR). We had enough of pseudo-secular parties saying strong anti-terror laws will be misused. Well, that means even those that created this system has so less confidence in it. All kinds of laws get mis used, the way out is to build checks and balances around them, but not scrapping them altogether!

I am no expert in these matters. I am just an ordinary average Indian, and the immense anger that welled up in me after the audacious attacks made me write this. I am totally pissed off and so are millions of Indians. How dare they attack my country like this? If our political masters feel half this anger, things will be better. There are experts out there who can provide better and more actionable suggestions. Take their help, pay them if you want, ask the help of our allies who would be very obliging if asked.

All this would cost money and take time to be put in place. But then this is a matter of national security and the citizens of this country will not mind paying for this. So tax us, put surcharges but in the end of the benefits would be worth it. Indians have long given up the hope that their elected representatives would make their lives better, provide them with social security, food security, energy security, good roads, portable drinking water, good education, employment opportunities etc. It might sound fatalistic, but Indians have more or less stopped expecting their own representatives to provide these. They decide to get these things on their own, make a decent life of their own and provide for their families. They move across the country in search of livelihood, taking in stride all the prejudice, parochialism, regionalism, religious divide, casteism and all such despicable things drummed up by the politicians. They fight all these and the system to just get ahead in life. All they are asking is to provide security, security that while going out to work or an outing with their family, someone doesn't come up and pump a dozen bullets and blow up the train they are travelling in. Infact every Indian knows that its impossible for the Govt to provide this security, but they would be happy if the intent was there.

Mumbai, Bleeding!

Friday, November 28, 2008

2 days and nights of terror, blood and gore in Mumbai! And its still not over yet! 160 dead at last count, scores injured, many still missing, families torn apart and a city, a nation and a world aghast at the sheer cold blooded murderous rage of a handful people! 

They stuck India and Mumbai again, this time the scale, coordination, precision and planning is unparalleled! They stuck at 10 places and places in the heart of Mumbai's tourist and financial centres! While all previous attacks were targeted at the average working Indian, this time they also stuck at India's elite and foreigners! If poor and middle class Indians were targeted at Cama Hospital and Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the rich, famous and foreign tourists staying at the premier and upmarket hotels like the Taj Mahal hotel and Oberoi/Trident were also in their gun sights! Those dead and injured were across the cross section of society, religion and nationality! Americans, Germans, Indian, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Parsi, poor, rich, middle class, bell boys, policemen, interns, businessmen, tourists, young, old, men, women, children, white, black, brown. You just cannot categorize them! A cruel and ironic reminder that the divisions and categorisations we create do not stand in front of terror, we are all equally the target! 

I came home on the evening of 26th from office and logged in to CNN-IBN to catch the day's news and saw the terror unfolding on the laptop, my first thoughts were of my brother who is working in Mumbai for a multinational and would be returning from work at that time! I called him and was relieved to hear his voice, but a shudder ran down my spine when he said how he passed the flyover at Vile Parle just a couple of hours before a blast ripped through a taxi there! I initially thought these are a kind of serial blasts again, but they innovated this time to cause maximum panic and loss of loves! They fired indiscriminately at commuters at CST, killed top policemen, stole their patrol vehicle and went on a kind of ride around the city just firing randomly at passersby (which was dramatically caught on tape), fired at patients at a hospital and took 2 hotels and a Jewish house hostage! These look like random events, but are all part of a sophisticated, well planned and extremely well executed operation! It makes my gut wrench that I am kind of praising their efforts with those words, but the truth is that they did what they planned to do! 

There are a lot of unanswered questions: Who are these people? How did they manage to sneak into the city undetected by the sea? Was the Govt slow in responding? What took the Govt almost 9 hrs to get the NSG commandos near the buildings? Where was the intelligence? Where were the warnings? If they were, why were they not acted upon? Why were such important hotels so vulnerable and so weakly guarded? These are questions the common man, the media, world governments whose civilians were dead, the victims and their families are asking. As is the wont, they expect the Govt to answer them! But the sad thing is that our Govt has no answers! Its not just about who is in power right now (its another matter that those in power right now presided over almost 50 years of incompetence and some of the bloodiest attacks on our nation, cities and people), but its about the class we keep sending to our parliament and state assemblies year after year and election after election! Just a couple of examples: our very 'articulate' union home minister Shivraj Patil told one of the news channels "By the time I arrived at the place the 
terrorists had left". I think the terrorists missed a chance there to shake hands with his royal highness and take a snap with him! On the other side of the political divide, BJP and LK Advani, although quiet for one long day, clearly lost their patience and launched into a scathing attack on the Govt! What was worse was the way they patted themselves on the back for the way they handled terror during their rule (like escorting terrorists in exchange for hostages). 

The sheer incompetence of this class has been known to Indians for years and we have long lost hoping anything sane from them, but now even the world knows that this glorious democracy we keep touting, this shining India, this resurgent economy, this ancient civilisation is run by a bunch of incompetent, corrupt and care-a-damn jokers! We have scientists who send satellites to the moon at half the cost, we have defence forces who can fight against any army in the world, commandos who are best in the business, best geeks, best businessmen, best of everything, we also have the worst of the politicians! And who elects these glorious bunch? We! 

America suffered the biggest ever terrorist strike ever, it remained the biggest and the only one on its soil! Today, America is perhaps the most hated country in the world, there are perhaps millions of people wanting to attack America, but America ensured that no other attack took place on its soil! Yes we are a more complicated country than America, home to a diverse population, not as developed, but if not action, intent of action can deter many attacks! The intent is what we are missing!

What do we need to do now? I guess thats a whole different story! Perhaps another post! Meanwhile, fingers crossed and hoping that they flush out or kill the remaining terrorists still holed up in the Taj Mahal hotel without any more loss of innocent lives! The Taj Mahal hotel is a glorious structure, I stood gaping at it when I first visited Mumbai from across the Gateway of India. Its the symbol of how Jametji Tata cocked a snook at the uppity colonial govt that refused him entry into a British hotel! It was on fire for 2 days, and is now filled with blood of innocent victims, but still stands in all its grandeur and splendour! Its a metaphor for Mumbai, which is more or less the same now! Mumbai is bleeding! My heart is numb and mind blank! 

Jimmy Boy - Part 3

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Continues from Jimmy Boy - Part 2

After a few years in Guntur our family moved to Vijayawada, as Mom got a job as a lecturer in a famous college. We sold our house and moved lock, stock and barrel to Vijayawada. This was the turning point in Jimmy's life as we had moved into a house which had 2 other portions. This meant Jimmy had to be kept on leash lest he wandered into the neighbour's area and relieved himself. He immensely disliked it having enjoyed unimaginable freedom for the first 10 years of his life. He barked for days on end, tugged at the leash and made several futile attempts to chew away the leash. To ease his pain we made a longish leash which ensured he could wander till the confines of our house. He got used to this over the months but he still severely missed the wide open yard, his old pals – the garden lizards and the butterflies.

In the first few days though he was the cynosure of all eyes because of his unique looks and mixed heritage. Since he was put on a leash and had little freedom, me and my brother and occasionally Dad took him out each morning and evening on a tour of the colony. It gave him an opportunity to meet the neighbourhood dogs and sniff new scents. He and the other dogs were on quite friendly terms and I should say this veteran was quite a hit with the females (of both species, dogs and humans). Which brings me to his sex life, which I should sadly admit was non-existent till then! I was in my teens then and understood that all animals had such wants and wondered if this celibate would ever have that opportunity. I never dared suggest this to Dad though.

Then one day, Jimmy disappeared. His leash was torn and he wasn't to be found anywhere. We searched the neighbourhood on bicycles and those who knew us and Jimmy if he was seen anywhere, but to no avail. Then word came through a domestic help who works in another part of the region that he was spotted there. We rushed ther but again he managed to elude us. We came back with heavy hearts fearing that he ran away from us, which was very difficult to digest. Mom sent us to School so that we would put it behind us but it was impossible to pay any attention to what was happening. We went back home in the evening and found that he hasn't returned yet. We quickly set out in search of him again. Just as we came out of the house, we saw him in a distance, dragging himself back. He looked very tired and ragged but I was sure I saw a look of immense satisfaction on his face. He drank a lot of water and ate whatever Mom gave him. We were all of course thrilled that he was back with us! I did not realise it at the moment but when I later thought about it I hoped he found the only thing missing from his life till then, which i mentioned above! That probably explained the look of satisfaction I saw on his face. The grizzly veteran finally did it (hopefully)!

It was amazing that he lived so long. By 1996 he was 14, a rare age for a Dog. Age mellowed him and also ravaged his body. He lost most of his brownish mane was his skin was a mass of open wounds. He lost his appetite and eyesight. He would frequently bump into the wall or the bushes while walking. He developed fits later on and it after that he refused to come out for walks and rarely ventured out of his kennel. We took him to a Vet who was amazed that he lived so long and advised us against any medicines as he was very very old and should be allowed to die a natural death. We considered mercy killing but were not able to bring ourselves to do it.

It was March 10th 1996. The Cricket World Cup was on and India was playing Pakistan in a tense Quarterfinal match at Bangalore. The whole of India was watching it with bated breath as India riding on a Jadeja onslaught on Waqar posted a challenging total for Pakistan. We were watching the match in the neighbouring house at our relatives place, Anwar and Sohail started in a superb fashion. Everyone was fearing the worst and there was silence in the room. Since we were just next door we heard Mom calling us. Looking from the gate I feared the worst as Dad was bringing a rickshaw and mom was standing there sobbing. Jimmy had died a few minutes back. Me and my brother sobbed uncontrollably. We buried him in an open field nearby.

By the time we came back, word had spread that Jimmy died and the neighbours and our relatives congregated to offer their condolences and console us. Our relatives took us with them thinking the cricket match would help divert attention. Venkatesh Prasad clean bowled Aamir Sohail (the famous incident that is recounted by every cricket fan, wide eyed) and the room erupted. It was probably the only time we dint cheer when India did well in a cricket match.
Even now when we see replays of that incident, I feel a sense of loss. Jimmy was like the third son to our parents and a dear brother. He gave us a lot of memories to recount. Its almost 11 years to the day since he died and I have never recounted Jimmy's life in this detail to anyone. These are the bits of memories we share whenever the family conversation diverts to him! He holds a special place in our hearts.

Jimmy Boy - Part 2

Continues from Jimmy Boy - Part 1
Jimmy loved us all a lot, of course, as any other dog would love his adopted family. He would wag his long tail and lick us all over the face after we came back from school. We would then share our evening snack with him before proceeding to do our homework. He loved Dad too, he never let Dad go into the house after he came back from work unless he patted him and nuzzled him, but as much as he liked Dad he was also petrified of him. No one quite knew why, my dad never even hit him, but he was scared none the less. If he wasn't behaving himself and wouldn't listen to us, all it took was a shout from Dad and he would quiet down immediately, bow his head, put his tail down and walk away. It was an amazing sight, as we never even trained him to obey commands. But he was Jimmy, and he had an aggressive streak in him! He had strong likes and dislikes and me and my brother fell in the former category. Much as he was afraid of Dad, he would start barking at Dad if he found we were at the receiving end of one of Dad's rare outbursts of anger. Visitors to our house of course never believed this. So we put up a show for their benefit. Dad would suddenly call out our names, show mock anger and start scolding us, sometimes using a ruler for effect. His shouts never failed to attract Jimmy who would come dashing to the entrance, stand on the steps and start barking at Dad drawing chuckles and claps from visitors. Jimmy never understood why everyone was serious one moment and laughing the next and would go on barking for some more time probably realising that we pulled a fast one on him.

He loved splashing himself in puddles of water after a strong spell of rain and cover himself with mud, but it wasn't as though he particularly liked water. If he suspected that we were going to give him a bath, he would run away. We had to corner him, avoid his teeth and leash him to get him a bath. Since we stayed in the tropics, we would typically use the cold water from the well, drawing it out using a long bucket and dumping buckets upon buckets of water upon him. He would bear this for a while (perhaps secretly enjoying the cool water from the well), but just as we were thinking that he was taking this lying down, he would shake himself and drench us in water. His mane would stand up all over him and once finished, he would give us a long satisfied triumphant yelp.

As for his dislikes, it included any foreign creature invading his territory. One of Jimmy's favourite pastimes was to sit near the gate and peep from the grill and 'greet' anyone walking on the street. He particularly disliked the early risers from the neighbouring labour colony who attended calls of nature early in the morning. But anyone trying to squat anywhere near the vicinity of the house was scared away by a ferocious volley of abuse from Jimmy. It amused Dad a lot as he unsuccessfully tried to shoo them away from doing the disgusting thing near our house.
But Jimmy had a pet hate, his bete noir, in the form of another Dog called Johnny. Johnny was a nondescript but was fed by our neighbours and he would move in and out of their house at will, roaming the neighbourhood quite freely. He was also quite strong unlike other street dogs as he was well fed by the kindly neighbours but had the aggressive streak of a street dog. No one quite knew how or why Jimmy and Johnny hated each other so much, but they would let out a string of insults at each other whenever Johnny passed in front of our house. In fact Johnny would make sure Jimmy was at the gate, wait if he wasn't and made sure he made his feelings known. He also frequently trailed the neighbours whenever they paid a visit to the house, unsuccessfully trying to sneak in to our house. We knew what would happen if he came in and made sure the gate was always locked. But one day Johnny and Jimmy were having a particularly bad day and Johnny just rushed in the moment we opened the door a little. What followed was a fierce battle between the two dogs. They fell over each other, bit and scratched each other and made so much racket that it borough the entire neighbourhood to our house. No one dared go near them for fear of getting bitten by one or both the dogs. For us it was a pain to watch as Jimmy, although holding up quite well in a fight against a seasoned street fighter, appeared tot be losing the fight. Just when it started looking bad, the neighbour's son walked straight into the middle of the two dogs and kicked Johnny so severely he fell a few feet away and ran out of the gate, leaving Jimmy, quite literally licking his wounds. He was given medical attention by a Vet and recovered quite soon but his hate and fear of Johnny only increased after that. Thankfully after that both never had a chance to shake hands again.

Dogs love food and it was probably his bad luck that he was adopted into a Telugu Brahmin household. During the initial years in the Old house his chances of eating meat were few and far between as there was no one who could buy meat and feed it to him. It was still socialist India where you couldn't go to the local Hypermarket and buy Dog food off the shelf. His luck improved when we moved into the new house. We had a domestic help whose responsibility it was to buy meat every Sunday and feed Jimmy. Needless to say Jimmy saw the lady as an Angel.

Jimmy Boy - Part 1

He came into our family in April of 1982 when he was barely few days old, just a few months younger than my younger brother (Phani) who was born in the January of the same year. My dad’s friend brought him in a small basket. He was pale white and very tiny just like any newborn pup. However a brownish mane started appearing after just a few days. I did not know it at that time, but I was later told that he was a cross between a dachshund and an Alsatian. So he was slightly taller than a dachshund, but had the looks of an Alsatian. He had to be named and this onerous task fell upon my young shoulders. I tried to shirk away trying to get my brother in. But since all he could manage was childish gibberish I had to take up the enormous task. Creativity has never been my strong point even at the age of 2 years! So I was given a choice – Tiger and Jimmy. I had two strong objections to the first option. First of all, how can you call a Dog a Tiger? This clearly stemmed from my ‘education’, which had started just then! I could tell a tiger from a dog and there is no way my family could hoodwink me into believing it by naming a dog a tiger. Secondly, what if the poor thing started believing he was a tiger! The very thought was scary. So it came to pass that he was named ‘Jimmy’!

Jimmy was snatched away from his family at a tender age and forced to live with another, of a different species. But there was no way he was going to know it or realize it. As far as he was concerned we were his family and our home was his home. And he proceeded to show it in the strongest possible ways. Like roaming all over the house and marking his ‘territory’! Like yapping at everything inside the house that he dint like. That included immovable objects and sometimes moving things like my brother’s cradle. So my parents' daily duties included cleaning after my brother and Jimmy.

The only time he used to behave himself was when my paternal grand mom used to read out Sanskrit slokas from the Bhagavadgita and other hymns. He used to lie at my grandma’s feet with his head between his legs and seemed to listen to everything she said with rapt attention. My granny used to teach me all the stories from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Puranic Stories. And I used to enjoy these and clamored for more. She could understand the enthusiasm and curiosity of a 2 yr old kid. But the attention and apparent interest of a Dog was something she fancied a lot. But his intransigences with his calls of nature became too much for the collective patience of the family. Moreover, he refused to learn the art of dashing out at the right time. Hence he was banished into the open.

My father’s reasoning was that he was getting bigger and needed more space to roam around. And wasn’t ‘security’ part of his duties. He believed that Jimmy should start behaving like a grown-up. The first few nights were painful for him, the family and the neighbours. He yelped all night and proceeded to sleep only in the mornings. But like any other dog, he got used to it with time. Part of the reason was that he had a huge open field to explore. Within no time, he knew he was the king of the yard. He chased after butterflies and hunted garden lizards and barked at crows perched over the compound walls. But he had a special bond with a band of monkeys that terrorized the neighbourhood. These monkeys would descend on the colony and create havoc by shattering the street lights and also the neighbourhood peace, eating the fruit in gardens and attacking anyone who dared to question their activities.

As I said they had a special bond with Jimmy. They liked nothing more than irritating him. It was a well planned and precisely executed operation, which had to be seen to be believed. All the monkeys would perch on the well in our garden and taunt Jimmy, while Jimmy tried desperately to get anywhere near them. Suddenly one of these apes would stealthily approach Jimmy from behind and pull his tail and before the dog could even turn his head, the monkey would scamper back to the safety of the wall. It used to drive Jimmy crazy, but all he could do was bark, run around the well and jump at the simian creatures. Once the monkeys were tired of the games they would take leave of their buddy and retreated into the next row of houses leaving Jimmy barking after them.

As he grew up, he quickly became aware of my dad's contention that security was part of his duties. The only problem was the definition of security was never clearly explained to him, so he proceeded to create his own definition. So anyone without a security clearance were strictly forbidden from entering anywhere near his vicinity. This applied to lizards, crows, his monkey pals and neighbours he dint like. He took exception to anyone outside the family standing in front yard and chatting away. He would walk around them and mark them as part of his territory. It was as though he was saying “Go inside and talk or stand outside the gate and talk. You stand in my yard and talk, you end up as my territory! You will be marked with my hybrid pee”

A few of the neighbours were at the wrong end of this treatment, but instead of getting angry at him, they reminisced about it fondly. In fact soon they started comparing notes and those who weren't touched by his mighty pee were deemed unfortunate. But as I said, he did take his security duties very seriously and managed to scare away a thief or two, as vouched by the next door neighbours. In fact whenever they went out of town, Jimmy was made aware so that he could keep an eye on the neighbour's house.

When he was about 6 (and I about 8) we moved to our own house in a different area. He strongly disliked this change of place and dashed back to the house when we were transporting him in a rickshaw. He felt insecure and scared and rightly so! However once he saw the new house, he fell in love with it. It had an even bigger yard and a lot more creatures to pester. He missed his simian friends, but loved the high grass, into which he would disappear for long hours. Once again he was the King, of a different jungle though! So it dint matter to him one bit that we moved to a new place.

The previous house was part of a residential neighbourhood and there was very less chance of the yard being infested with snakes. So we were allowed to roam freely in the old yard. But the new house was something else, it was surrounded by open fields and so snakes became regular visitors inside the house. Again, it was Jimmy to the rescue. I have lost count of the number of times he found snakes hidden under a pile of stones or a bush or a thick outgrowth of grass. If he was found barking for a few minutes at an apparently harmless stone, the message was that there was something lurking underneath. Immediately the local snake charmer was summoned, who happily extricated the unsuspecting snake and reward Jimmy with a pat on his head.

Me and my brother (we dint have many friends in the deserted colony) used to play cricket in the big yard and Jimmy would keep watch. He wasn't allowed near the ball. Now we were only two of us and would have loved the extra fielder, but it doesn't help if the said fielder runs away with the ball, does it? So he would just totter in the area sulking. But sometimes being a nice boy was too much for him. My brother would play a sumptuous straight drive and the ball appears headed towards the boundary, when Jimmy would appear out of nowhere, execute a Jonty style dive and make away with the ball. It used to take us a while to retrieve the ball after which we would have a long argument whether it was a boundary of not.

Horn OK Please

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Mumbai Taxiwala starts his day with his Taxi owner demanding his pay, he then proceeds to start the taxi with by hitting the engine with a spanner, meets assorted characters, dreams of buying his own brand-new taxi and sees his dreams go up in smoke in just the space of one day! Yet he starts afresh, the next day! This short animation feature, titled Horn OK Please - that ubiquitous message on the back of most trucks and taxis in India, is as much a tribute to the Mumbai taxiwala as it is a story of most taxi/auto drivers in India.

Inspired from the experiences of director Joel Simon in Mumbai, the short animation feature, created by Irish and Indian animators using clay models and hand drawn backgrounds won several awards. Mixing brilliant animation with a taut script and wonderful background score, the short film is a striking advertisement for short animation features.

Read more about the film and one of its creators, Vaibhav Kumaresh - an NID Ahmedabad alumnus, here.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Shailesh J Mehta School of Management (SJMSOM), IIT Bombay, my alma mater is conducting its annual BFest - Avenues. They have an interesting online quiz running. Check it out.

This format of quizzing is the latest fad on the internet. Remember to read the rules carefully and check out the Avenues blog as it has some pretty nice clues, in case you get stuck, which I promise you will. The quiz has apparantly already been cracked, but dont let that stop you. It can be quite addictive once you crack the initial few rounds. And oh, I am not even halfway through yet!