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Twenty Years On The Fringe – Incoherent Ramblings

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In 2014 I completed roughly 20 years in the industry – of course encompassing my work as a TV producer/director, editor and filmmaker (and atrocious makeshift actor at times). I call these 20 years my life. The remaining years were another life, led by another person, lived by another soul. In 1994 I was a directionless 25 year old bored of computer software, a failed entrepreneur, a young father and basically a young man without a vision for life. 20 years later not much has changed. Except the fact that I have survived. I have survived these 20 years like many other nameless, faceless individuals do in this industry – on the fringes.

Being on the fringes of this industry means that -

  1. You rarely get invited to parties or premiers or previews.
  2. You don’t get written about often. Your personal life is very personal and is of no interest to anybody.
  3. You are rarely / never perceived as a threat to established insider stereotypes.
  4. You don’t expect or win awards.
  5. You make less money.

Essentially, this oblivion means that you can focus on work, lead a simple life and most importantly it means that you do not have to be politically correct all the time. Being on the fringe also means that your mediocrity is often looked down upon as mediocre and you have to ensure that your most mediocre work is less mediocre than the insider’s least mediocre work. You can also be irreverent, impolite, even honest and fearless as an outsider – your survival after all does not depend on your conformism or your sycophancy.

Yes, there are disadvantages, mostly self-inflicted, of being a fringe player. You can get cynical very easily as you see those less talented and more fortunate than you get all that you believe you deserve. You can get very bitter and you can waste immense amounts of time limiting your own creative growth. Nothing will ever seem worthy of your appreciation – not even your own work. Yes, cynicism is the greatest danger posed by oblivion as you will soon be unable to look at yourself in the mirror and you will constantly lower your own standards to belong to a place that you will never belong to.

I write from experience. I was once happy in my oblivion. Then I was dissatisfied. I desperately wanted to belong. I got cynical, frustrated and directionless. I stopped holding a mirror to myself. Fortunately, failure helped me recognize this. I took some time off from myself and my ego. Today, I am comfortable in my own little world. Shahid emerged out of this comfort with my own aspirations and my own inner self. I now inhabit an independent universe that is driven by me, my own benchmarks for growth and my own levels of satisfaction.

I write this because I see many like myself fall prey to the perceived pressure of oblivion and because I see them afflicted by the rampant mediocrity around them. I often see these people fading away and resorting to desperate measures that either undermine their talent or see them fading away beyond the fringes that they belong to. The truth is that being an outsider is far more fulfilling than having to belong to a place that you never belonged to in the first place.

Rag Mayur – on Shahid

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We’ve had enough of the manipulative biographies.

We’ve had enough of the made-up ‘reality movies’.

We’ve seen only fancy courts with freshly painted walls and the judge saying ‘Order Order Order’.

But have we seen the real court sessions where there is only chaos, where lawyers sit on Nilkamal chairs and not on polished plywood cushioned royal chairs?

Time to look at the reality! ‘Shahid’ does that in every aspect, be it a court, be it the attitude of media and the society, or be it the ways of how the system works.

‘Shahid’ is that authentic biographical film that is brave enough to portray real things very really!  The movie captures the various phases of Shahid’s life, crisply yet seamlessly. Raj Kumar Yadav is brilliant. He is a One size-Fits all actor. He can do an LSD;he can do a Gangs Of Wasseypur;he can do a Shaitaan;he can do a Kai Po Che. With ‘Shahid’, he has gone 3 more levels higher! Shahid firmly believes that religion cannot be associated with the doer of the crime nor the victim of that. Raj Kumar lived that in the movie! Kay Kay Menon was very graceful in a brief appearance. Zeeshan was good as the supportive elder brother; again very realistic unlike the usual Bollywood brother who says “Bhai tere liye jaan bhi dedunga”. Not to forget Prabhleen Sandhu, who played the role of Mariam so naturally.

Director Hansal Mehta and his team deserve a standing ovation for this masterpiece. Shahid is an eye-opener showing the true picture of the prejudiced and parallelized society we live in, where a selfless savior, who goes out of the way to save the innocents, has no right to live!
SHAHID IS AN IMPORTANT MOVIE WHICH WILL CHANGE THE FALSE MINDSETS OF MANY!

 

Lamb Chops Masala – Without a drop of oil!

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I am battling with three issues : 1. Weight management  2. Withdrawal symptoms from quitting cigarettes and 3. Stress. To manage stress I usually cook. But this stress management method sometimes plays havoc with issues 1 and 2. Particularly when issue 2 plays havoc with issue 1. This is a recipe that partially dealt with all the issues.This is a recipe I adapted from two recipes that I read and tried with varying degrees of success. Most importantly, this is a healthy recipe that was a major hit with my guests! The recipe is simple, hassle free and very importantly has no added oil!

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Ingredients

24-25 Lamp Chops, cleaned
4 Medium Onions, chopped
4 Medium Tomatoes, chopped
1-1/2 cup Yoghurt
3 tbsp Garlic Paste
4 tbsp Ginger Paste
2 tsp Red Chili Powder
4 tsp Coriander Powder (Dhania powder)
4 tsp Cumin Powder (Jeera powder)
2 tsp Garam Masala Powder
Salt, to taste

For the garnish

Ginger juliennes
Lemon juice
Chopped Coriander (optional)
Garam Masala Powder

Procedure

  1. Clean and dry the lamp chops
  2. In a pan mix the lamb chops with all the ingredients except cumin powder, garam masala powder and the garnish.
  3. Place the pan on the gas and cook on high flame until the mixture comes to a boil.
  4. Cover and simmer until the lamb chops are half cooked. Add cumin powder and garam masala powder. Mix.
  5. Continue to simmer until the gravy thickens, envelopes the lamb chops. Cook until the lamb chops are fully cooked.
  6. Garnish with ginger juliennes and chopped coriander. Sprinkle lemon juice.

Serve hot with rotis/phoolkas/parathas or simply devour as a stand alone protein fest – without the guilt!

A Time for Audacity

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I saw the honest, deceptively simple and thoroughly engaging Kaipoche last week. The film has apparently opened well at the box-office. It’s producers UTV seem to have backed a film without stars and without ‘safe’ ingredients to the hilt. Kaipoche is a triumph of conviction and a celebration of audacity. I believe this is the time. A time for the mavericks to shine. A time for the mad to blossom. A time for the honest to express. A time for the artist to create. A time for the fearless. A time for audacity.

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4 reasons for me not watching (or not being able to watch) the increasing number of films released every week –

  1. I am perennially broke
  2. I am lazy
  3. I need to work
  4. My wife is not in the mood
  5. I am hoping I get invited for a preview/premier.

The past few weeks have been different though. The spate of films released and due for release stared at me in the face because

  1. They featured friends in lead roles
  2. They were directed by friends
  3. They were produced by friends
  4. I was looking forward to the films
  5. I felt compelled to watch them

I am going to limit my post to the Hindi films I saw because in the case of foreign films:

  1. I feel inadequate commenting about commenting on them
  2. I did not feel like watching many of them
  3. I am waiting for uncensored DVDs of some of them
  4. I don’t get invited for previews of these films

In the past few years, most significantly 2012, I am seeing a pattern in films that are successful (relatively) and appreciated. A majority of them stand out for their choice of actors, their choice of subject, their non-formulaic narratives and a host of other similarly intellectually stimulating reasons. One factor that has begun to increasingly stand out in these films is sheer audacity. The more I think about what drew me to watch the films, to like some of them, to dislike some of them and to find some of them memorable was the lack of apologetic film-making that has mostly led our films towards pathetic levels of mediocrity.

I’ve noticed that many film-makers no longer feel pressured to make the same formulaic nonsense with the same boring people over and over again. Many of the older directors also seem to realize the futility of formula and are trying hard to reinvent. Those who aren’t will soon be history.

Ever since I made Shahid I’ve been asked over and over again about how the trend of biopics is on the increase. The media unfortunately reads trends very poorly and looks for convenient analysis. Trade pundits who have in the past thrived upon silly generalization are very shallow in their understanding of artistic/creative decisions taken by film-makers or in analyzing the success of films that don’t fall into their formulaic comfort zones. The truth is that book adaptations, biopics and stories inspired by true events are an indicator and not trends in themselves. We now have film-makers looking for newer stories to tell. We have film-makers looking for new ways to tell stories. We have film-makers who are fearless. We have film-makers who are not afraid of audacity.

Whether it is Talaash, Gangs of Wasseypur, Ek Main aur Ek Tu, Vicky Donor, Special 26 or Kaipoche I notice a fearless streak in the directors and the team that has made these films possible. Even potboilers like Dabbang or before that Wanted or the recently released ABCD have displayed a certain audacious vision. Rockstar had the audacity to be deeply philosophical and sometimes meandering while pretending to have commercial trappings. A certain Anurag Kashyap whose films either got banned or termed as jinxed is now celebrated because of his delightfully indulgent Gangs of Wasseypur or his subversive take on Devdas. Sujoy Ghosh redeemed himself with the surprising Kahaani. Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Pan Singh Tomar was commercially successful. English Vinglish marked the successful return of a Bollywood diva who churned out some of the most cringe-worthy films of my growing up years. Tanu weds Manu with it’s unconventional cast, relaxed pace and fresh music created a new benchmark for the romantic genre. The list could be exhaustive and I’m sure it will soon dominate successful box-office lists. On the other hand there has been a steady increase in films (Ship of Theseus, Miss Lovely, Peddlers etc.) that have found appreciative audiences in international film festivals and critics. These films have shown a fierce independence in their making while giving alternate Indian cinema a new lease of life and an unpretentious, fresh form of expression. They have been audacious in their abandonment of what we perceived as ‘art-house’ or ‘parallel’ cinema in India. They were unabashed in their treatment, style, narratives and expression. These and many other films that I have viewed over the past year and this year have challenged audiences, provoked critics and subverted formulaic convention with amazing audacity. Even more encouraging is the fact that producers, actors (including some stars) and trade have begun to embrace the audacious breed, backing them to the hilt.

So what is the point I’m trying to make? It’s simple. Audacity is in. Safe is not safe anymore. Take the second installment of Dabbang. It disappointed because it succumbed to ‘ingredientization’ and failed to live up to the fearless audacity of the first part. Films like ‘Zilla Ghaziabad’ or ‘Jayantabhai Ki Love Story’ are passé. They will continue to get made. They will continue to remind us of everything that is unimaginative and about how we have allowed ourselves to be taken for granted all these years.

So here is my two bit gyaan. Whether you aim for the mainstream or the alternate space, make it audacious. Just making it big will soon cease to work – neither for the makers or the audience. Yes we will have regular installments of successful franchises. We will have ridiculous remakes. We will have mindless, storyless films – but my guess is that all of them will work for their audacity and not for their adherence to convention.

Audacious will soon be safe. Safe is already dangerous. It could soon be suicidal.

Mundane

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Man. Wife. Two sons. One daughter. A tata car. Packets of masala wafers. Immersed. In meaningless. Group activities. In pointless. Logistics. Clicking away. Creating memories. Unable. To savor. To enjoy. To reflect. To meditate. A facade. Of happiness. A picture. Of togetherness. Makes me. Suffocate. I hope. They leave. A selfish thought. I hate. Being reminded. Of the mundane. Yet. It stares. At me. In the face. Leave. Before. I throw up.

Love Lust etc

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Longing is punishment. Yearning is torture. Unleashed by forces. Beyond our control. Motivated by a concept. Called love. Fueled by a nuisance. Called lust. Controlled by a demon. Called passion. I yearn for you. Long to be with you. Dream about us. Remember what was. Imagine what could be. Unable to endure. What is. Without you. I am weak. I am mortal. I am incomplete.

Non-Spicy Cabbage Poriyal – Simple, light and vegetarian!

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cabbage-2Ingredients

1 Medium Cabbage, chopped
3 tsp Oil
1 tsp Mustard seeds
2 tsp Urad Dal
8-10 Curry Leaves
2 tsp Turmeric powder (Haldi)
Salt, to taste
1/2 Grated coconut
Water

Procedure

  1. Heat the oil. Add the urad dal to this.
  2. When urad dal turns brownish add mustard seeds.
  3. When the mustard seeds begin to sputter add curry leaves and turmeric powder. Fry for 2-3 mins.
  4. Add the cabbage. Mix well.
  5. Add salt and approx 1/2 cup water. Cook without covering until cabbage is fully cooked.
  6. Add grated coconut. Fry for 1 minute. Serve hot.

So simple. That is what I love about this dish. Quick, attractive, delicious, light and great with hot phoolkas. You can sprinkle lemon juice on this before serving.

Since my mother is unable to tolerate spicy food my recipe does not include red chilli powder and coriander powder. You can add these along with turmeric powder. I still prefer the masale-free version.

Chana Dal Gosht – A great recipe from Pakistan!

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INGREDIENTS

For the Bhuna Gosht

1 kg Mutton/Lamb (with bone)
4 Medium Onion, peeled, finely chopped
4 tsp Garlic paste
3 tsp Red Chilli powder
Salt
3 tsp Coriander powder
2 tsp Cumin powder
½ tsp Turrmeric powder (haldi)
5 Medium Tomatoes, pureed or finely chopped
4 tsp Ginger paste
1-½ cups Water
¼ cup Oil / Ghee

For the Chana Dal Gosht

1 cup Chana Dal (split chick peas)
2 tsp Red Chilli powder
2 tsp Garam Masala powder
4-5 tbs Fresh Cream
1 Onion, sliced, fried until brown and kept aside
2 Green chillies, lightly fried
A handful of mint leaves
Lemon juice

PROCEDURE

  1. Put mutton, onions, garlic, salt, chili powder, ground coriander, turmeric and water in a heavy based saucepan or pressure cooker. Cook for 20 minutes on high flame, stirring continuously (bhunaoing) or until all the water including the water from the chopped onions has dried up.
  2. Add tomatoes and ginger paste. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring all the time.
  3. Add oil and cook for 10 minutes, again stirring all the time. Add one or two tablespoons of water to prevent gravy from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  4. Shut the flame when oil separates from the gravy.
  5. Add the chana dal and red chilli powder to the bhuna gosht prepared above.
  6. Add water to this. Make sure that the water covers around 1 inch above the level of the dal and meat.
  7. Simmer under pressure for 3 whistles. Alternatively cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the dal and meat are fully cooked.
  8. Open the lid. Sprinkle garam masala powder, adjust the salt and mix thoroughly. Cook on medium flame for around 10 minutes, stirring continuously. Turn off the flame.
  9. Add fresh cream and mix into the Dal Gosht. Cover and let it rest for around 10 minutes.
  10. Serve with lemon juice, fresh mint and brown onions.

This is a wonderful recipe that I have got from the great singer/composer and my brother from Pakistan, Shafqat Ali. The dish is attractive, delicious and a massive hit with everybody. The trick is to ensure that Bhuna Gosht is made correctly with a lot of stirring to ensure that gravy does not get stuck to the bottom of the pan.

You can make a lot of variations to this dish. Change the dal – try red lentils, kidney beans or soaked Bengal gram or a mixture of all the dals. Instead of dal you can also add vegetables like okra, cauliflower, potatoes, yam or turnips to the Bhuna Gosht to get delightful dishes! Cooking times of course will vary. You can also replace the tomatoes with yoghurt. Keep trying and serving. That is what passion is all about. Happy cooking!