HUNTERRR

I watched Hunterrr today and it made me howl and giggle and laugh and oof. It was refreshing to be drawn into the world of young male cousins bathing together, of them seeking a chest to lean against and cry at funerals, of them speaking of nothing but love and marriage and sex and shit, of men who don’t forget to carry left over pieces of chicken kebabs while running after their Devdas friends who drunkenly leave tanni on the table to go settle matters of the heart.

It is a rare film. Because usually male narration of itself is exhausting. Hunterrr isn’t. Because usually male narration of itself tends to have a Ranbir Kapoor- type aura around it even if there’s no Ranbir Kapoor around. But Mandar Ponkshe is delightfully anything but Ranbir Kapoor. And that’s not the only lovely thing about him. The man is full dil. Gulshan Devaiah who plays Mandar is apparently a Bengloor huduga who went to Cluny’s and then to Joseph’s Indian.

There is also Radhika Apte in the film before she became the Radhika Apte. She is Trupti who is stunning in her clarity of what she doesn’t know she wants in life. There is a small shopping scene at a market where important conversations around love and marriage happen simultaneously with alteration directions to a tailor ( also featuring in the scene is Satrapi’s Persepolis) 

Mandar lost in shops is a whole museum of comedy.

*Scene One: Women are bra- shopping and Apte tells Mandar to go talk to (read: put line for) one of the women. Hero goes there in his most sex energy on legs kind of way and is asked by the woman to give her a 36 D bra. He is staring, Apte is laughing. He puts his hand inside a tub full of bras. Sales boy comes and tells him ey don’t put kai man, you are dabaoing everything. Mandar says eh fuckoff man what is there to dabao here anyway? (In my head my mangloor sisters and I are rolling & laughing)

**Scene Two: Mandar in a supermarket following Apte. But the store manager is following him and asking him questions like ‘Sir what you eat in morning sir? Corn flakes, muesli, bran, tell me sir tell me”. Mandar says I eat poha and walks off. Hengappa kannada huduga ishtu sexy aada Marathi alli? I am asking. 

The scene that took my heart away has young Mandar, his father, another young cousin walking to his village. Random paapa smol kid doing open tatti stands up almost militarily to greet them and say ‘Haiiiii’. Tatti-doing boy’s father yells in the background ‘ey gadhava bas khali’ 

Man organising bloo fillum in seedy theatre instructs men not to do dirty things or he will rub tiger balm there and all. The other thing he rubs is one burn for young Mandar whom he calls ‘Baby Mushroom’. In the middle of the screening, cops come off. “I came to watch chota chetan”, mandar says. “Came to watch chota chetan or to make chota chetan bada?” cop asks. 

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Getting to know a city through a film set in it is becoming rare. I am not complaining. I am grateful that it happens only now and then because when it does, it teaches me to look where I am not used to looking, and to pay attention when it’s so easy not to. Hunterrr has Pune in the way that Mumbai is never allowed to overshadow it. In the way that Mysore used to be until everything became Bangalore.

Hunterrr has the same energy of old Bengloor love stories that I keep demanding from friends to narrate and re-narrate until I can see them instead of Anil Kapoor in Naguva Nayana, and see Premier bookshop every time I walk past Church street. It makes room for a rare pause in that song where you can walk to a cart selling guavas and buy some for your lover and yourself. Fruits man, fucking fruits.

***Scene Three

Mandar and cousin sleep on the footpath after the chicken kebab- scene. Context is that Mandar is waiting to go and tell Apte everything about his raunchy past. Cousin says fuck you bastard tell after you get married otherwise she will leave you ra. Mandar doesn’t listen. Cousin convinces him to sober down a little so they decide to sleep on the footpath. Early next morning Mandar goes into Apte’s apartment leaving sleeping cousin behind. Camera doesn’t begin and die with heroes only. At one paapa moment, it returns to find sleeping cousin being rudely woken by a walking passerby thatha. 

Haven’t watched a film like this in soooo long. It returns with grace to the moments other films have trained us to forget and move on from. Pah.

Mr M discovered this byooty on Prime. But I sincerely believe he is lucky to have me give him all these lovely film reccos man.

From Sandra from Bandra to Celine from Dion – My Heart Will Go On

Credits - indiantelevision.com
Credits – indiantelevision.com

Every time Celine Dion’s Titanic song came on TV, Pa would close his eyes and begin singing. He wouldn’t sing the song as much as imitate the way Celine Dion’s mouth opened and closed at certain points. When I started handling the remote control and learnt what the mute button does, I’d hit it and he would freeze. I’d unmute it and he’d unfreeze. Through my childhood – this used to be our favourite game.

My heart will go on used to be my school anthem, he said. Thereafter, all English songs became his school anthems. From Backstreet boys to the Friends theme song.

It had always been his dream to study in a convent school, to speak in English, to watch English films without subtitles. This led him to be fascinated with those who spoke English fearlessly and fluently.

He believed that my sister was far more fluent than anyone in the family because she was able to pronounce difficult words effortlessly.

What is that word, he asked me one day when we were watching Simi Garewal.

-Redezvas, I said.

-No – that’s not how you pronounce it. Call your sister.

-She rolled her tongue, pouted here and there and said – Raundevoo.

-Ah! he said, delighted. His tiny eyes smiling.

A week before Christmas last year, he came to me and asked if I knew any Carol songs. I found some that we both knew from having watched Home Alone obsessively. I played them for him. He bobbed his head this way and that.

–School alli ittu ee haadu (We had this in school)

— Haan, howdu, aaytu (haan, yes, ok)

So while my father was busy making faces to match Celine Dion’s song, my brother was convinced that the song was written for him. He played with his toy cars with an insane energy singing – ‘My Hot wheel go on and on’

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I seem to have inherited some part of this fascination with English. In school, I was crazy about all the catholic girls in my class. I wanted to be very much like them – smell like them, bring lunch dabbas with ham sandwiches and hot dogs in them.

On the rare occasion that I went to their homes, my head would wrap itself around whatever smell there was. In Madam Rose’s tuition, I spent all my time trying to figure out where the bedroom was so I could quickly go smell it.

Sometime back, I watched this documentary, Where’s Sandra? by Paromita Vohra and was immediately reminded of my school girl days – How I longed to go to Mass and Sunday church. How I once told Madam Tara that I was Christian too so could she please allow me to accompany my other Christian friends to go build Baby Jesus’ crib?

I remembered a lanky tree we stuck in the living room of our Belgaum home and how we proceeded to assault it with ribbons and chocolates. I was crazy about Christmas and cakes and cookies.

I once spat out all the water I was drinking when my friend said that they give wine at some communion type thing in church. Wine was what my father made excuses to drink- with great difficulty to avoid amma’s pressing looks.

-It’s actually grape juice.

-It’s good for the heart.

-I’m drinking white wine. The red is actually bad for health.

-I’m drinking red wine. The white is actually bad for health.

It appeared that my mother was the most unsocial parent so every time I took friends home, she would shrug. And I was amused that in the homes of various catholic friends, their mothers seemed open with not just their children but also me. “Yes sweetheart – what’s your name,” they’d ask me. And I’d smile shyly.

-Your mom called me sweetheart! She’s so sweet – I’d say to my friend.

Josephine and I met in college. She’d wear sleeveless tops and midi skirts & again, I longed to wear the things she did. She brought me homemade beef pickle in glass jars and I emptied them into steel dabbas and told people at home that she’d made me chicken chilli pickle.

Somethings never change. I buy mouth-watering beef pickles at North-East food fests, bring them home, tear the beef label, write chilli on them with a black pen and keep them in the fridge next to the Mallige Hoovu kept for God. Something else that hasn’t changed is that I still watch English films with subtitles (only reason why I was overjoyed about Netflix and Prime coming to India.) I have a nagging worry that if there aren’t subtitles, I will lose out on bits of the film – especially when white people talk fast.

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There are many reasons to love Where’s Sandra? I love that when you watch it – you aren’t just seeing Bombay – you are also hearing it.

You hear the sound of moving taxis in Bandra where she interviews shopkeepers and Sandras. The drone of the sound of Taxis pulling themselves together – the kind that I imagine comes from the pit of Bombay Taxi engines – like the sounds that came from the pit of my brother’s stomach when he played with his toy cars.

My favourite woman in the documentary is Sandra D’Souza. Her face moves from one expression to the next so quickly – it brings to mind the faces of Catholic mothers whose daughters wanted you to ask them permission for night-overs at your house.

The face goes from jolly to strict in a matter of seconds. So you learn to be watchful in their presence – you train yourself to look at your hands because you have the feeling that if you look in their faces – even if you haven’t lied, you will want to admit to having lied.

Sandra here – sits by the piano and under her sometimes stern, sometimes playful gaze, you hear the story of a community adjusting to a vast city.

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Featured Image Credits – indiantelevision.com

To Bombay from Bombay

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I must return to Bombay for several reasons. One because I tricked myself into believing that a poem is enough but it never is and two because I am reading Vivian Gornick.

Seven years between you and a city of your childhood is enough to make you want to give up everything in its honour. Even if a great deal of this childhood was spent stuck in an apartment on the 8th floor. Even if Bombay was a two- month long vacation in a house full of singing aunties, a toothpick of an uncle whose only connection to the house, and his solitude was the wheezing AC in the only bedroom of the apartment, and an OCD prone grandmother who washed the floor and the TV with equal amounts of Surf Excel and madness.

This is all that Bombay was. This and the shopping bags from Linking Road that amma lugged into big suitcases every evening. These bags had what my sister and I wore for the rest of the year – pants in the gaudiest of red, purple, and pink. Jackets in Amrutanjan yellows, and night dresses with cows and moons on them.

She really did shop for the whole town, as dad would often say. She got bags with 20 compartments for various sisters-in-law and their cousins. Back in Bangalore, during functions, ‘Attige Bombay inda tandiddu,’ (Aunt got from Bombay) was muttered approvingly.

The evenings were hot and sweaty only because we stepped out of the AC room then. As I remember Mahim – its street walls  were permanently blackened by building after building of factories. Blue carts stood idly on the footpath- and behind them – bearded old men in off-white shirts selling vad-pav. We’d hit Icy Spicy for Chinese and the good old Shobha for North Indian and Kulfi.

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When I found myself in this city seven years later, I asked the nearest taxi driver to show me the way out and he mumbled something from his swollen red mouth, pan juice overflowing.

In the taxi, I was glued to the window, inhaling the formless, moving shapes outside. Big billboards with Deepika Padukone’s face on them told me that it has indeed been seven years. I think back to the time when long ago, returning from a film at 8 in the night, my aunt suddenly announced that Rani Mukherji and Karan Johar were sitting in the car next to us at the signal. I poked my head out the window, in between our car and theirs- and gaped at the horrified couple who were not Karan Johar and Rani Mukherjee.

They were then visibly upset and my aunt proceeded with all shamelessness to make it clear to them that even she wasn’t all that happy with them for not being Karan Johar and Rani Mukherjee.

Bombay hadn’t changed or if it had, I was happy to note that I didn’t care. The air was hot and smelled like it always had – Like the fantasy I had of going to Juhu Beach or an open drainage and blinding myself with a pair of binoculars, having set upon myself the task of finding the sea smell. I say binoculars here because of Garcia Marquez.

In Living to Tell the Tale, he mentions a night he spent with some friends. His brother couldn’t sleep properly because the goat next door was giving birth and the persistent moans of labour disturbed him so he said that the goat’s noise ‘is as annoying as a lighthouse’

That Lighthouse is my Binoculars.

Marquez later says that he would never forget this moment. And as it turns out, neither have I.

Bombay smell is like petrol smell. Not everybody appreciates it. There are takers and then there are abusers. I take it whole-nosedly.

It’s what I imagine I’ll smell if I stand at the edge of a flyover and open my nose out to the sea –  and it’s the same smell that follows me, away from the flyover, past Kamathipura and Andheri and into Marine Drive.

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In my room at the hotel next to Bombay hospital, I sneak into the small, parched balcony that is barely holding itself along with its hundred pigeon-droppings and the blackened floor. I lean out and leaning out, I reached into the corners of the mind where Bombay was tangled like the numerous black wires on the clotheslines outside the Loreto building in Mahim.

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The next morning, I was walking up and down the Marine Drive beach assuming I’d get to see Shah Rukh Khan’s house somewhere. It was only after fishing out my phone and keying in my destination did I realise that that was in Bandra. You know how when you are young and if you are going to a city of film-land; you are positive that you will ‘run into’ a famous film star or at least catch a passing glance — à la Fan in Fan.

What is the point, I felt like asking after Google told me how far Mannat was from Marine Drive. I was sad for a moment and then I realised that I was in Paro Devi’s city and immediately felt like I do when I’m in love. I felt hopeful and alive from the pit of my stomach. It was 7:30 in the morning. I was a little drowsy, mildly hung-over, and no Shah Rukh Khan anywhere. But I realised that just being in the same city as your favourite writer can save you in ways even Shah Rukh Khan can’t.

Did Paro Devi come here often, I wondered. And through the rest of my stay there – it’s all I asked myself.

I was in the same city as another Shah-Rukh lover and that seemed enough. I was in the same city as a writer whose work I’d stalked for years. And there – standing in Marine Drive smiling sheepishly at all the joggers, I was able to rescue Bombay from Bombay.

I returned home with Two Bombays. One is the Bombay of my childhood and there it will remain happily for the rest of my life. The other is a borrowed Bombay – one that you know through someone else, one that comes alive in someone else’s writing. And because of some one else’s love for the city, you consume it and learn to love it.

Elena Ferrante said “When there is no love, not only the life of the people becomes sterile but the life of cities.”

When I first read this, I shook my head. I didn’t agree. For a long time I believed that  cities come out alive when one is not in love. But maybe I should have just read it more carefully. She is not saying anything about being in love, she is saying when there is no love. Very different things. And back in Marine Drive that day, if I hadn’t thought about Paro Devi who had taught me so much about love through her writing and her documentaries — Bombay would have become sterile.

Feminism is about Love and kindness, she says in so many of her interviews. And as I have come to realise, it really is the closest definition of Feminism.

But what does Shah Rukh Khan have to do with love or feminism?

Now only I will start writing next post.

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Bombay

At a book launch today, I was inspired to look at Bombay the way I visited it once in a year. I lived in two Bombays but they were seemingly the same. It felt like two because of the time it took me to get from one home in Mahim to another in Andheri, east or west, I don’t remember now. Two of my aunts lived there, respectively. Mother made annual visits to Bombay and these weren’t ones that lasted all of one week or 15 days. These were 30 days and more, it was my entire summer vacation. Mother saw it fit to drag us there because of what her and her sisters would like to call the ‘treatment’. While in Mahim, skins would be scrutinized and focused on, to be made white and flawless, cheeks were pulled now and then, Dal was a yellow that floated in ghee mostly, the plateful of rice was a challenge to be completed every afternoon after which we compulsorily had to take a nap. Most afternoons, I would lie down, shut my eyes and wait for sleep to come.

So much of Bombay will sadly remain only this for me. Deep from within the folds of my mind, I have perhaps learnt to associate Bombay with tall, dusty apartments and roads that struggled to meet around them. The smell of an ocean rotting nearby, the salt on my face, the dirt that I scraped off my neck, chatty taxi drivers who would suddenly turn rowdy after they would drop us home, the exhaustion that I anticipated from having to climb 4 floors, the smell of recycled air that I now call ac smell, the marble floor that was scrubbed with surf excel 20 times a day.

Our time in Bombay was cut between shifting from Andheri to Mahim and the occasional trip to GangaVihar’s for boring paneer- kulcha kind of food, which I didn’t care much for. My target was the sweet pan that they sold outside. There were the frequent shopping sprees to Linking road and Dadar. I have never really seen the beach in all my time in Bombay. I saw it when the plane flew over it during take off and landing. That was that. Living in Mahim was living away from Bombay with all its activities and flyovers and peculiar taxi sounds that I am convinced, is only produced in Bombay. I haven’t seen what the city is like now. When I go there soon, I wish I find places hidden behind what I saw back then.