Thursday, July 21, 2011

Monkey at My Window

He is watching me write. Our eyes meet and he squeals quietly. The rains have let up, briefly, and the monkeys are everywhere, looking for food. Yesterday, I took my trash to the dumpster up the hill and when I threw it in a large monkey jumped out the other side. I put potatoes and cucumbers out on the road for them, away from the building so as not to tame them or get too close. Wild monkeys, especially wild forest monkeys who are hungry, can get aggressive.

This ain't Gorillas in the Mist, although the valley below is filling with mist as I write this. At the moment, it's light, making the vista an impressionist painting. In about 20 minutes it will be white-out fog. More heavy rain forecast for tonight.

Monsoon rain is not a downpour--it's more like intermittent explosions of ocean so dense they can almost knock you unconscious. After a few days of heavy rains everything inside is damp and matches won't light. If you're caught out in it, your average telescopic umbrella is a feeble defense. People carry big, sturdy umbrellas with enormous wingspans, making it difficult and dangerous to navigate crowded bazaar lanes during monsoon without losing an eye. Throw in a couple of cows and a few auto rickshaws for extra fun.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

Reviews for ZNMD, Zoya Akthar's new movie from Excel Entertainment, look great across the board. Since the dialogue, written by Zoya's brother Farhan, is noted in the reviews I'll have to wait for a subtitled version. The Hindi will be too nuanced for me.

Excel shook up the masala formula at the turn of the century with Dil Chahta Hai, another film about three young men finding themselves, and did another great road movie, Honeymoon Travels, a few years ago. Despite the similarities in theme, the three films are radically different. Produced by Ritesh Sidhwani.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Travel to Live

I ran into a French artist hiking with a monk. She said: "It is cheaper to travel than to rent an apartment in Paris, so I travel." A horde of other European backpackers have the same idea, many more than I've encountered before on the road, outside of Europe bien sur. European backpackers are a different breed from the more upscale tourists-- not as fussy or standoffish, generally speaking1. Fluent English helps: It makes them more open, confident and approachable.

More than that, it's some shared philosophical foundation that makes them gentle rebels, at least here.

My friend Vineet says, "Most westerners who stay long enough in India turn into hippies2." You confront your middle-class, and often fair-skin, privilege here pretty much every day. It's hard to stay entitled and judgmental when you are face to face with the gross unfairness of the world and the folly of your petty complaints.

I've noticed more Chinese backpackers, traveling independently instead of in supervised groups. And they are out there, not huddling to themselves but engaged with other travelers, dancing, passing the chillum, singing at some primitive dusty 19th century tea house with a 21st century karaoke machine, discussing the state of the planet. They too speak English. The English-haters of the world need to get over it. It may not be the most beautiful language in the world, but it is the most useful. It's a good language, one that easily embraces and incorporates other languages. It's masala.

1 Happily, some things are eternal. You don't want to get on line at a coffee place behind some Euro guy painstakingly explaining to the barista how to make a correct coffee.

2 Vineet also said that Feringhi backpackers always tell him they aren't coming to India to find themselves, but they almost always do.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New India

"There are so many ‘caste no bar’ ads in the matrimonials now," I said to my friend Pramod.

"Yeah, ‘Caste no bar. Must make minimum six figures a month,’" he said.

(100,000 rupees=1 lakh=$2275 approx.)

Still thinking about Delhi Belly.

Kurt: “Hollywood couldn’t get away with some of that stuff.”
Pramod: “Only Aamir Khan could.1

The burqa sequence is comic genius. Imran Khan breaks out of his ‘chocolate boy’ image. Vir Das is hilarious, as always. Kunal Roy Kapoor was something of a revelation for me. His character was so sweetly corrupt. He was endearing.

Western critics in particular cite Hangover and other American movies as an influence. Not as much as they think. There has always been dark comedy and scat humour in India—Hindi is rich with great insults and dark, earthy jokes. DB’s humor is very much indigenous, but will translate well overseas. Does everyone know that South Asians prefer water to toilet paper?2 If you know this, then you’ll never look at a juice box the same way again.

While there have been a few dark comic gems in Indian films, most film humor here has been of the escapist slapstick variety of masala films or the gentle and/or satirical strain of the parallel cinema. As a screen genre, dark comedy really came into its own with Khosla ka Ghosla in 2006. Great film.

Adult Comedy

DB is the first, flat-out adult movie I’ve seen in India, but there have been signs and groundbreakers before. Mahesh Bhatt and Anurag Basu have dealt frankly with sexual topics in their films, and there is some racy simulated sex in Gangster.3 Dhoom 2 has the most twisted and delicious kissing scene. Last’s year’s Turning 30 gave us a modern heroine who has sex on her own terms.

1 I suspect, also, that someone fabulous with the initials ST has been loosening screws on the Censor Board.

2 I read a study that showed water (plus the left hand) is more sanitary than toilet paper.

3 Gangster stars Kangna Ranaut, Shiney Ahuja and Emraan Hashmi. Hashmi is known as the “serial kisser” for his many on-screen kisses. Evidently, I am in the minority here: I like Hashmi’s acting and hate his kissing. It always makes me think of Dave Barry’s great line after Al and Tipper Gore’s on-stage kiss at the 2000 Democratic convention: “He looked like a lizard depositing an egg sac in the mouth of his mate.”

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Delhi Belly

GAME CHANGER. Funniest movie I've seen in I don't know how long. Should translate well in most markets. Young audience, laughing nonstop. The Censor Board must have been drunk (and thank God). This movie does things Hollywood couldn't get away with, notes American friend Kurt. Written by Akshat Verma, directed by Abhinay Deo, and well acted all around. Watch for a wicked turn by Vijay Raaz (who played Dubey the wedding planner in Monsoon Wedding), and for a great Mexican Standoff.