Friday, September 05, 2014

QUESTIONS

He's been very, very restless over the last few days. It could be the niggling sore throat, or the fact that his mind is dragging him into deep contemplation. Ha! As if that wasn't a problem already.

You see, he has ambitions, temptations, dreams, fantasies just like you. Add a dash here or there and they're smaller or bigger than yours; zanier or blander than yours. But whether he faces success or rejection, joy or heartbreak, his mental rumination poses him that one dreaded question. WHAT is the point of all of this? Whether you get it or lose it all, where does this path lead?

We live full lives, run through the gamut of  experiences, wound, heal, love, help, hurt. We do everything by the book and out of the box. We help others as much as we help ourselves. We live for the moment & we plan for the long run. We see the glass half empty, half full, fully empty or fully full. Sometimes, we don't even see the glass. 

We're considerate and we're egoistic. We're good & we're evil. We're saints and also sinners. We are charitable & spendthrift. We are introspective & frivolous. Selfish yet philanthropic. 

Everything that a life is meant to be and more, may we live that and beyond. And even if we do, WHAT is the purpose behind it all? Love completes, they say. Is that the answer? Or is it? Is it a full stop? Then what's the rest of this life for?

How much success, love, good karma, experiences great and foul must run their course before he gets an answer? If we are every permutation of everything a human being is meant to be & do or not, what then?

Questions.
Questions.
Questions.
Too many questions.
And a restless mind.

To be or not to be. Now that is NOT a question. Damn you Will! 

To BE! But to what end?

How will he sleep tonight? Will he? At all?


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

THAT BEAST CALLED FITNESS

I'm in a profession where fitness & good looks hold much weightage, though nothing is more paramount than the obvious presence of that elusive creature called talent, whether inbred or cultivated. In a city like Mumbai, where every second person is looking for that one (or maybe two, three, four) big break(s) in television, film, radio or performing arts, one is often surrounded by well-chiselled (and sometimes way too plastic) bodies (and personalities). I could never have fathomed that muscles were ever meant to attain that Greek God-ish proportions, where biceps are bigger than a human head or that fitness automatically paved the way to good looks & a natural sense of well-being. It is but natural to want to be better equipped out of that desire or of competition. It requires immense dedication, focus & a farewell-to-arms to plenty of distractions. Back in Dental school, the frenzied preparations of my peers would literally jolt me into working harder , and the same continues today when it comes to the various things that I do. As a Dentist-to-be, I handled academics, practicals as well as internal politics without falling by the wayside. It was mentally & physically demanding and I conquered them all! But fitness? Ah.. Now that is the arch nemesis in my story.

Don't get me wrong. I feel AWESOME after a good workout, some Yoga, a dance routine or a good ol' jog! The body structure feels good, clothes fall better on you, your skin & hair become radiant, stamina levels for shoot & live performances race up: I could go on & on. And as cliched & oft-heard as it sounds, the pain is always worth it (well, almost always). But I have ditschy lovers who refuse to let me go - FOOD & SLEEP! Theirs is the leash from a delectable hell that refuses to let me fly.

It's irony aplenty; everytime I look at a fit body I don't go "Damn! I gotta work harder to be like that". Instead, I say "Damn! That's one (chomp chomp) helluva task (chomp chomp chomp). Gotta get there someday (glug glug glug burp!!!)"

Sigh! I'll never get there, will I?

THE MUMBAI DILEMMA

Picture Courtesy : www.worldtop7.com
One of the first things you'll hear as a new immigrant in Mumbai, even before the "Maya Nagari" cliche will most probably be "Once you've lived in this city, you can't or won't live anywhere else." And true to form, I've heard this since my childhood when I'd visit my grandmother here, up to 2007 when I set up base in this big, bad city with my own dreams in tow. 

But as the years have gone by, I've failed to find that love & lust for the city that many swore on their mothers I would (peace be upon their mothers). Perhaps the city is not to be my muse, and I neither its master nor its slave.

Then again, I hear such wonderful stories from & of people who've lived their entire lives in this city and realise that the dictum is more a romanticised memory of a bygone era when this megapolis really was something else. I vividly remember lovely childhood vignettes of Dadar by my friend Sidd Coutto. My buddy & co-actor Anand Tiwari has a treasure trove of Bombay stories. I've visited friends' & relatives' ancestral homes & bungalows in Mumbai and experienced first hand the history & character bursting through their every line, crack & beam. Heck, I have personally witnessed the growth of the city over the years, first through the innocent eyes of a child & then a cynical view of an adult. And yet, when I return to the ruins of the rest of the crumbling city, I find it very hard to peer at Mumbai with a rose-tinted perspective. I rant about the pitfalls of the city more than I'd like to admit. Yet, I cannot take it when it comes from an outsider; as if I alone have the right to declare how ridiculous this city is.


The Mumbai of today is safer & boasts of deliverance from many social ills & restrictions. It is a free, modern city; a veritable utopia amidst dystopia. But for old times' sake, I wish some Bombay would seep back into Mumbai. Because the suburbs of Mumbai is a city, but the old city of Bombay is a person. I would like to meet that person more often, have tea together, talk about a romantic yesterday and the day before. Perhaps then, yes then, I too would fall blindly & hopelessly in love with that person, this city. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

THEATRE THERAPY + THE MAN WHO THOUGHT HE'D BE A LONER

I
"Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place."

When I was in Dental College in Bangalore, it was extremely vital for me to find a life outside dentistry. Dental study is an interesting but taxing occupation and a distraction is as crucial as any to maintain one's sanity. Circa 2000, in a pub-city with an erstwhile deadline of 2am, distractions were aplenty. However, one of the more worthwhile diversions had to be watching plays at Ranga Shankara; that beautiful theatre space conceptualised by Mr Girish Karnad. Each & every visit to this hallowed ground was, for me, ethereal. Right in the middle of this lush but concrete-ridden city, there lay an alternate dimension where you could apparate and be giddy & light-headed for the right reasons. 



I never knew I'd be an actor one day, but I had always shown a keen desire in watching theatre if not being a part of it. Right from my boarding school days in Dehradun & Mussoorie, I witnessed some grand as well as threadbare yet impactful productions within & without. Some that remain fresh & everlasting in my memory are renditions of Tughlaq & Julius Caesar, as well as many of the sociodramas my own school in Dehradun put up. I still remember the scope of those sociodramas with awe; helmed by our music coach Mr. Joshi, who himself dabbled in nautanki in his hometown, Nainital. His plays were a perfect marriage of music & dialogue, with several actors & scores of singers. I was always part of the choir & did not act in these plays. However, I admired the manner in which he extracted gems out of rank amateurs, each and every one of us. Teachers like him planted the creative seed in many of us, and I've probably never acknowledged his contribution to my cultural growth until now. In my next school in Mussoorie, I finally progressed to being a prompter on Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap & then to playing an important character in An Inspector Calls. Dental Education beckoned thereon & theatre/acting was relegated to the background for a while.

The first professional play (by which I mean it wasn't a school or college production) I witnessed was "C for Clown" at Ranga Shankara, starring Vinay Pathak & Ranvir Shorey, amongst other brilliant talents, and directed by Rajat Kapoor. My hostel being nearby, I went to pick up the tickets in person. And who should I bump into but Mr Girish Karnad himself! That was the first time I experienced what is better known as "ohmygodicantbelieveimseeingacelebrityimsoexcitedimshiveringlikecrazy" syndrome. That play was my first confrontation with celebrities. I call it a confrontation because of the extremely upfront & direct connect the actors had with the audience, and what a sweet one at that. The play was in gibberish, and it established a basic notion in my mind; that art is ephemeral, it need not have a language, only a medium.


Years later, I moved to Mumbai and found, to my utter joy, a similar hallowed space in the famous Prithvi theatre. It is smaller & located in a very busy region (which pocket of Mumbai isn't?) but has the same, warm vibe as Ranga Shankara. It's edge, however, is that it hosts more multilingual plays than RS did & its cafe serves some mood-altering cutting chai. An ageing actor often practices his flute here which adds to the bohemian atmosphere. You'll often see playwrights & actors running around, or just hanging around. When he still could, Shashi Kapoor (son of Prithviraj Kapoor, founder of Prithvi Theatre) would come visit too.




Unfortunately, I haven't always had the time or like-minded partners to accompany me over the years & this great space had been denied me owing to my own constraints. So when I recently attended "Nothing Like Lear" by the same director &  production, with Vinay Pathak as the solo lead, a lot many memories of C for Clown squeezed their way through to my mind's eye and a decision was made: hereon, a steady diet of theatre shall be had!

Many plays have been attended & enjoyed since, and a great many talents congratulated & admired. The plethora of talent in theatre is tremendous, and they're surely some of the finest in the country! Many actors, directors & plays have left an indelible mark (Nasseeruddin Shah being right up there with his voice, poise & inimitable pauses!)



Theatre for me, has always been far more gratifying than other forms of entertainment, including music & the movies. I wonder if some day, I'd graduate from my comfort zone within the audience and on to the spotlight & solitude of the stage. I have been on stage before but this will be different. To be absorbed within that circle of light as you animate what you inhabit, with agitation & stillness, silence & loquacity . It could be new & exciting, and change the way I think, and exist.





*****

At a fairly young age, I'd tell people that I fear becoming a loner in my old age. I've always been a decently happy person & they'd be taken aback by my pessimism. Now, many years later, I realize that my premonition wasn't wrong, only incorrectly worded. A loner is cut-off from civilization, and rues that isolation. I'm not one & will hopefully never be. What I could become however, is a modern-age hermit who chooses to keep his own company than that of others. I say this because of late, I find it increasingly tedious to make small talk, back-slap and spend pointless hours in the name of bonding. When you walk into a room full of people you know well & do not want to stay for long, you know it's a sign!

I'm not an antisocial person; I just don't think socializing is all there is to my life. My alone time is just as divine & important.  I'm sure many of you would agree. I also believe there's a higher purpose to my life than to spend partying or mingling more than is necessary.  Time spent learning, reading, traveling is time well spent. Time with the 'right' people, although difficult to define & quantify, is a blessing. Work is worship & if you do what you love, then that itself is a better investment than hollow conversations borne out of boredom or an obligation to strike a conversation. 

I may think differently in a few years. However, the idea of becoming a modern hermit doesn't seem all that far-fetched. 

That reminds me; as a child I'd also tell people I'd never get married. Hmmmmm.....

Monday, May 12, 2014

WHAT WOULD WE DO?

As I sat across the table with someone who'd once been much more than a friend & had then drifted apart owing to an acrimonious split , I couldn't help but smile. Here we were; friends again, talking for hours. Older. Wiser. Behaving like mature adults, who've (hopefully) put the rough times behind them. The serenity & unmarred beauty of that moment got me thinking....

When we look back at our younger, sometimes reckless & immature selves, do we wish we had the wisdom that we possess now to tackle the situations better, choose the right friends & lovers, make the correct decisions, be more successful, perhaps hurt lesser? Or would we rather we made all the mistakes we did to learn as we went and earned that wisdom through experience, even at the cost of heartbreak, deceit & disappointment? Would one be full of regret or would they see the silver lining and grow old in the knowledge that their's was a rich life full of myriad experiences? 

If we could really time travel, would we change our past (and therefore our future), or would we live it again, exactly the way it was, with its' pretty imperfections?

What would we do?

Think about it. And answer this one very, very carefully. 

Thursday, May 01, 2014

GRANNY'S TEA-TIME STORIES

My grandmother (that smiling, kind force of nature) has an interesting tale to tell of her younger days. She doesn't remember the when of the story, hence I'm unable to put a date to it. Those were times of government imposed sanctions on food & basic necessities when one had to wait in protracted queues for a limited ration of rice, jowar, wheat, bread and the like. Hers' was a big joint family, and there were many mouths to feed.

In those rationed times, she often made the long sojourn from Bombay Central to Virar (a mean distance to cover at that time) & bought 20 Kgs of rice from a discreet individualNow such a big distribution of grain to a single person was prohibited back then, but it was too good an opportunity to pass. Picture her with a 10 kg sack over her shoulders & two 5 kg sacks in her free hand on the local train, perpetually worried about cops & confiscation and yet, determined to get the family that extra ration. Imagine her changing trains at the massive Dadar station, which back then would have only about 5-6 people around, with barely a woman in sight; thus making her all the more conspicuous! Such an era of scarcity will never be understood by the like of us, who, true to our elders' aphorisms, have been spoilt rotten.

In the same breath & timeline, she recounts a tale of a grand Chinese wedding party held at Kam-ling restaurant, which stands to this day in Churchgate. It was a time when a party for more than 50 people was not permitted, wherein only cold drinks & frugal snacks could be served. Any public show of gastronomic grandeur was frowned upon & penalized. Apparently, an envious soul (a competitor perhaps?) tipped off the authorities to ensure that this particular party faced a rude interruption. When the hosts realised a raid was imminent, they hid all the food & alcohol in the toilets! The cops returned empty handed, the party was declared over and the food discreetly distributed amongst the guests to take back. Talk about breaking the law to enjoy an evening! One can easily draw parallels between this incident of the distant past & the moral policing of current times.


On the one hand where she relates such stories with a chuckle, her face clouds over when she speaks about the Indo-China war of 1962. We all know how badly that ended for India but are probably unaware of the fate of the Indian-Chinese population, who in spite of being Indian by birth & loyalty but Chinese by blood, were treated with suspicion, misplaced hatred, harassment, arrests & even deportation. In its' wake, the war & the ensuing paranoia forced a large scale migration of that population, leading to a depletion of the Indian Chinese community. Mom & Granny tell me how they'd keep small bags with basic necessities for each family member, to be taken along were they to be given marching orders at the shortest notice. Everything else in the house was to be left behind, with little hope of returning. Fortunately, that notice never came for my family.


I'll be honest; when I heard that last tidbit, I was saddened by the thought that such a painful time existed and I'm grateful for the acceptance we enjoy now. We are as Indian as the next person, but who's to say that the xenophobia won't rear it's ugly head again if something were to go wrong? Because I remember well the number of times when, in a heated situation, I've been exhorted to return to Bhutan, Nepal, China or wherever I come from. And I have to remind them that India is my land, and I'm not going anywhere.


Nevertheless, let's end this post on an optimistic note and hope that I get to listen to more of Granny's tales and reproduce them here on the blog. They often occupy an enlightening spot in our conversations, and I get to learn more about my roots over meals & cups of tea :)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

THE NEXT FIVE YEARS OR THE REST OF OUR LIVES...

I live a privileged life; I won't lie about that. I probably don't know the tribulations one has to go through to earn a daily meal (and sometimes, not even that). And yet, deep inside, I feel a rage welling up which threatens to overthrow the barriers of apathy, blame & caution. I feel strongly about the state of affairs in my motherland, India. She is a beautiful & exotic bird trapped in a cage forged of many a personal, selfish ambition. She is a mother who dutifully provides for her children even though they have turned into ravenous, greedy demons.

Ironically, this seething anger only first took seed when I was vacationing in Greece in 2012. Very akin to a typical country hopping snob, I ranted about how everything was better there than here, there being anywhere but here. The stark difference between what we are & what we could be overwhelms me, and there's not a single day when I don't rue that fact. Then a voice of conscience strikes me like a sledgehammer, asking me to show some respect, to be proud of the country that gave me everything irrespective of the state it is in today and make a positive difference, small or big, rather than wallowing in worthless grumbles.


But try as I might, I could not stop indulging in good-natured comparisons and had to wonder: WHY can't my country be proportionately better than this? Why can't the standard of living & human-rights quotient be higher? Why can't I be as vocal of the virtues of my land (of which there are many) as I am of its vices?


It could be because I tire of government apathy where the bishops spend more time & effort hoarding wealth than putting it to appropriate use, and of pawns who're looking for a shine of green or are just plain indifferent to issues that could very well plague their lives too. It could be because we conveniently put the blame on others while we are blind to our own moral decay. I'm saddened by the fact that when I look for a solution that is my fundamental right, I'm faced with an impervious wall or suggestions to “grease some palms”.  If I refuse, out of some “outdated” utopian sense of an ideal world, I'm cursed to face that roadblock for way longer. I'm sad the world cannot be a more honest place and I'm sad that 9 out of 10 times, we will slip in the green & yet complain about how corrupt the netas are.

Is this a perfectly timed blog on the back of the impending general elections? Is that what influences my words? Maybe. We're optimistic & perhaps putting all our eggs in one basket, hoping for a miracle now that a new, comparatively honest & principled political party is in the fray. With righteous, better-informed & open-minded people, they are our best bet today & can help us help others, the nation and ourselves. However, at the end of the day, they are but a helping hand. We the people must not turn them into a crutch, expecting them to rid our society of all evils, or into an excuse when it does not meet our lofty expectations.

Please do go out and vote intelligently for the right candidate & party. Know that it may change our lives for the next five years. But to change how we live for the rest of our lives, let us be better people and influence a better tomorrow, every day & every year henceforth. Today we are a hundred, tomorrow a thousand & soon the millions who'll bring in a new age...




*****

Friday, April 04, 2014

THE CITY AND ME

Wisdom & popular belief have us convinced that one really gets time to absorb life & it's true meaning when they travel far & wide. 

Logic dictates that jaunts out into the big, bad world beyond the warm, comfortable womb of home provide space for reflection. 

A person is undoubtedly busiest in their own home & untrammelled by shackles of responsibility when they travel. All of this indicates the obvious, and yet, while I love travel more than most things, Mumbai my city is the only place where I get TIME to THINK.  

Some travel to forget, some set out to fill the mind with fantasies & the fantastic. Yet others seek the unfamiliar & the treacherous, the thrill & adventure of experiences both enriching and wanton. Many a writer, poet, musician, stand-up comedian etc find inspiration in their sojourns. There's no doubt that my mind too is most at peace on terrains both familiar & otherwise; the silent mountains, the sunny beaches, the cobbled streets. 


But it is here in my city, within the chaos, heat, traffic and people both innocently bare & craftily concealed, that I get an omniscient sense of clarity. In a tough to explain way, I find special peace & a zeal to excel in this madness. And predictably enough, in this serenity within the chaos, I too wrestle an all-consuming weariness & a prodigious urge to relinquish my ceremonial throne.

In that convoluted, contradicting island of humanity that is Mumbai, I bite into my manna and sip freely of my poison. I die a little now & then and rise from the ashes every single day.


I'm a May fly & Phoenix rolled into one. 

I am me.

I am many people.



Thursday, March 07, 2013

POST WOMEN'S DAY GIG, MUMBAI


Come join us for a relaxed, non-Bollywood set at Renaissance, Powai, Mumbai on the 9th of March 2013. I'll be trying something different for a change, hence my excitement :)

Friday, January 18, 2013

IT'S NOT ABOUT THE ALCOHOL ;)



So even though this TV commercial is about 5 months old, I just realised I never shared it with you! Gosh, I do hope it doesn't come across as too much self-pimping but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do ;)

I don't drink much. I have an alcohol allergy (unbelievable though it may sound) and so I keep my intake to a minimum and my social drinking stints few & far in between. And trust me, I was drunk but only in one scene for my role as the alcoholic Zing in Badmaash Company. However, this commercial is not about that (even though it is for... ahem... a popular brand of alcohol) but about friendship and the fun moments that come with it. I had a great time shooting for it with Farhan Akhtar, Purab Kohli & Cyrus Sahukar and learnt some nuances just by observing Farhan. Here's a man who doesn't overdo one bit, is a complete natural & yet does not come across as underwhelming in his films. Those of you who know him know that he's a fantastic director with a very clear, modern vision. I like the fact that he makes fun, youthful films with a cinematic edge and an underlying message without being preachy. I'd love to work with him some day. It'd be an absolute privilege. There, I said it ;) Now let the Gods hear me!



Ah well, gotta rush now. Must sleep enough to be alert enough for an important audition tomorrow. Hope you like the TVC if you haven't seen it already :) Cheerios!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

RUNNING FOR A CAUSE; THE STANDARD CHARTERED MUMBAI MARATHON ON 20TH JANUARY, 2013



Only one more week to go & lots of funds to be raised! So without intending to sound like a politician campaigning for votes, I appeal to you to step forward & contribute to this noble cause. 

Contribute HERE: http://www.unitedwaymumbai.org/1597-meiyang-chang.htm

The proceeds go to Concern India Foundation who in turn will ensure that they are used judiciously & transparently for the welfare of the elders in need. You can have a look at the good work they have been up to at here at http://www.concernindiafoundation.org/

Change someone's life for the better. It'll feel special :) Please share & spread the word