Sunday, September 11, 2011

WHAT DOES IT TRULY MEAN?


Shooting at Sarai Ghat for India's Got Talent
It's amusing how distances take a different meaning in different geographics. Like how travelling half an hour is very far away in a small town or city but is casually dismissed when mentioned in a megapolis like Mumbai where one hour is considered the minimum time to cover a reasonable distance. This rang true when work got me on a short trip to Guwahati a while ago; a chaotic city not unlike my hometown Dhanbad but with the advantage of being accessorized by hills, the mighty Brahmaputra river and a lazy something in the air.


After a hectic day of shooting in the tea gardens, at Sarai-ghaat & around, a sleepless night followed making the rounds of the now absolutely still city to meet my mates. Even though it barely took 30 minutes to move about, time seemed to have painfully stopped in it's tracks, to put it mildly! Nevertheless, I was looking forward to seeing my friends again, some of them schoolmates I'd spent 8 years of my growing-up life with. One would expect sentiments running high, hugs galore & nostalgic stories of the good ol' days. But there was to be none of that. Instead, the air was thick with a "sizing up" that does not & should not exist in friendship. A thick & impenetrable wall reared itself between us that heavy artillery wouldn't get through! I was baffled, to say the least. We promised to keep in touch & meet the next day, but we knew in our hearts that it was not to be.


On the other hand, I later came across a couple of acquaintances who I'd hardly interacted with before and who I am great friends with now. I later went on to make the journey of a lifetime to Nagaland with them, twice. More on that in another post. This unexpected change of dynamics put me in deep thought & introspection about the real meaning of friendship. I'm no philosopher, but in making great friends out of none, and strangers out of some old friends, I guess distances took a different meaning in my life as well. It's aptly stated that the mere time spent together can never be the true measure of friendship. Either there's a spark, or there isn't. We're either meant to ignite, rekindle or stub it out. Sure gives a whole new meaning to the erstwhile jingoism & marketing heavy Friendship Day, doesn't it? And makes you think, who are your true friends, really?
Making great friends out of none: Kasturi & Ritika
*****
The world is as we see it. As children, we're imaginative, outrageous even. And as grown ups, we become smarter but tied down by conventions & the supposed right thing to do. As the flight back home took to the skies & distanced itself from terra-firma, the sun became a hot, bright ball someone tossed into the sky & forgot to bring back; set against the dirty slate of a sky full of dark clouds. Feeling the warmth of this most beautiful sunrise ever, barely a 100 feet above the gloomy clump of ominous rain clouds got me philosophical. The clouds are akin to our troubles; worldly troubles that should be beneath us but bog us down instead. And the sunrise is eternal hope; the burst of optimism we need to look forward to if only we could look beyond our "clouds" that are literally & metaphorically obscuring our sight. The bright yellow of the sun is not merely light, it is a gift of a smile & many joyful, positive thoughts.
Image courtesy - http://buyousef.net
Seat belts strapped, the descent into the destination city mimics a sinking feeling. The pessimist equates this to drowning in life's quagmire once again, but the optimist believes we shall fly again to watch the sunrise. The day we absorb that thought in our person, life will truly be worth it.

****

Thursday, September 01, 2011

RECOLLECTIONS & REFLECTIONS


A fan helped unearth a memory from the deepest recesses of my mind; a memory that now seems like from another lifetime altogether. It comes from a time when choreographer Ganesh Hegde landed up on the sets of Indian Idol 3 as a guest. Those were heady days for me as a contestant who was taking a big risk by switching professions. I nervously confessed to him that I could sing but not dance for nuts, and he encouraged me to just have fun with the "bulb-fixing" & the "tap-closing" steps he proceeded to teach me. That done, I never remotely thought about dancing again. Not until 4 years later, when I was offered to participate in one of the biggest celebrity dance shows on Indian television; Jhalak Dikkhlaa Jaa

Here I was again, in flashback mode & thinking "All right. Let's just have some fun. No harm in that." But before I had time to gather my bearings, the fun turned into initial disappointments and subsequently into a friendly, yet cut-throat competition. People were getting eliminated even before we'd had time to know each other. To make things worse, I still couldn't dance! But that's when the trust, belief & innovations of my choreographers Marischa & Deepak re-infused life AND the fun-factor into my preparations. No longer did I care about eliminations or points. My only aim was to do justice to what I was being taught. In a few quick weeks, appreciation began to pour in & so did the expectations, work-load & near-nervous breakdowns. Often, it became difficult to tell night from day as we lost count of the number of hours we'd put in practice. Reason often gave way to rage & frustration when things weren't going our way. We celebrated every moral victory and with every setback, we went back to the drawing board

Improvement. Growth. Upward graph. Dark horse. The underdogs. These were terms being used to describe us. And boy, did Marischa really want to win this one!!! Having been part of two earlier seasons, she was in no mood to be content with a runner-up spot this time round. In hindsight, I realize that apart from the lessons learnt from initial setbacks, it was also her hitherto unrequited dream that egged me on to reach for the stars. That's the beauty of team-work, isn't it? You forget everything else, embrace each other & learn to fly! 

I remember mentioning in one of my interviews that "in the end, it will boil down to who handles the stress best" and indeed, only the strong-willed improved & survived. Otherwise, what chance did a complete non-dancer like me have against seasoned performers like Yana, Krishna, Ankita & Sushant? I absolutely loved most of their performances & it inspired me to do better. Everyone, from the Judges, co-contestants, choreographers, stylists, reality team, production & post-production team, sound engineers, in-studio staff & many others who I might have forgotten to mention here, were a dream to work with. The amicable atmosphere & the constant encouragement by well-wishers gave me ample opportunity to prove myself and made the sweat & blood seem worth it. Yes, sweat & blood, considering the months of preparation & the numerous injuries incurred. 


In the finale, the three finalists who took the stage were broken warriors; down but definitely not out, each with their own motivation & goals. What transpired thereon is common knowledge. Whether the world agrees or disagrees with the end of the story, it remains a thoroughly cherished one. Since the curtains fell on Jhalak Dikhla Jaa Season 4, all of us have moved on with our lives. Deepak is currently teaching the contestants on India's Got Talent & Marischa is conducting dancing workshops in various Indian cities. We still carry fond memories of the time spent together & the profound experiences shared and continue to be good friends.

*****

I don't really believe in horoscopes. But call it co-incidence or otherwise, there are times when your horoscope reads eerily close to what you're going through in real life. We dismiss them as just another way to fill up newspaper columns & our imaginations but yet some of them strike too close to be just that.  For example, I was shooting for a horror reality show a year ago which was undoubtedly the most physically & mentally draining experience I've had so far in my life; what with shooting in remote & far-flung locations at the peak of an Indian summer and the lack of the basest of amenities.  Add to that, gastropathy & a gargantuan pile of official work back home was eating into my peace of mind. So imagine my surprise when I came across this in my daily horoscope:

"Slow down before you burn out."

Fortunately or unfortunately, my career is on a fast-track that does not give me the liberty to slow down. The show came to an end soon after & I had some time to recover. However, the timing of the horoscope was uncanny & not just a one-off incident. I'm sure you too have had similar experiences to vouch for the verity of daily horoscopes. Too many of them hit bullseye too often to be mere co-incidences. But then again, wouldn't believing in horoscopes be equivalent to being superstitious? Or is there a definite science behind their perceived accuracy? I guess there's really no answer for that.

"I don't believe in superstitions since they bring bad luck." 
Anonymous

*****


While shooting for the same show in a remote corner of Goa, Arjumand (the script writer & a dear friend) and I decided to take a walk on the beach. As the sun slowly melted into the sea & our feet sank into the not-so-clean yet soothing sand, we lost ourselves in a conversation about life, our dreams, ambitions, friends, troubles and so on. A lot was said but the most important sentence spoken in that enveloping darkness was:

"Life is about the little things, and not always about riches & career. For one, life is about being able to walk on the sand, unfettered, without a care in the world. We just don't realize it until it's too late"

Food for thought...

Friday, July 29, 2011

WHAT'S NEXT? INDIA'S GOT TALENT!!!

Press Launch for India's Got Talent Season 3

It's been a couple of months since a wonderful new experience called Jhalak Dikhlaa Jaa happened to me. It taught me much and brought sheer joy & inner satisfaction. All good things do come to an end, and as a wise sage would say, the end of something memorable is always the beginning of something opulent. And the truth in those words shines through once more as I take over the mantle of Host on India's Got Talent Season 3. (www.igt3.in.com)


One of the fastest growing international franchises, this is the Third Season of the Indian leg of the Got Talent series and my first on the show. Needless to say, I'm mighty excited about it, not only because it is new territory but also because this show is grander than what I had assumed at the outset. Made with a lot of love, toil & teamwork, this show is about the hitherto unsung Talent of India from all walks of life and in every size, shape, form & number. In a nutshell, it is a culmination of anything & everything that you would expect (and sometimes not) on a talent show, only much bigger! In Prince Dance Group & Shillong Chamber Choir, the show's had two exceptional winners. And it was in Britain's Got Talent (the British leg of the Got Talent series) that I learnt one of the most inspiring phrases of my life: "Chase the dream, not the competition."
PRINCE DANCE GROUP
WINNERS: Season 1
Picture courtesy: Harish Mohan

SHILLONG CHAMBER CHOIR
WINNERS: Season 2
Picture courtesy www.soundbox.co.in
But hey, don't take my flowery words for it :) WATCH the show & decide for yourself. Watch it for the Judges, watch it for yours' truly (takes a bow) but most importantly, watch it for the culture, colors & indomitable talent this great country has to offer.

Starts 29th July, Friday-Saturday 9 PM on Colors.


Friday, May 20, 2011

OF TRAINS AND BURNING BRIDGES


Prashant & I aboard the Darjeeling Local, 2009 

A friend of mine lives very close to a railway crossing in Mumbai. Local trains whiz by in both directions every few minutes and the never-ending traffic follows suit. While an average Joe would curse his fate for having landed such an apartment for the sheer noise it bears, my friend doesn't mind it much. Having lived there for a number of years, he is accustomed to it & gets anxious when the trains don't pass by regularly (due to bandhs, accidents, water logging and the like). Sometimes, he finds it therapeutic even.

I completely relate to him. In my home town Dhanbad, my folks and I have lived in places barely 100 meters away from a railway line for what now seems like forever. Over the years, our home has changed many times but there has always been a constant: the railway tracks & the perenially chugging trains. As a child, I've watched in awe as mammoth steam-billowing engines have hauled a bevy of bogies & puny-seeming human beings within from one corner of as-far-as-the-eye-can-see to the other. The whistle of the steam engine would have me rushing out to the balcony to marvel at the rampaging metal monster & the black, ominous smoke surging out of it.

I've watched, bemused, as the monster has been humbled more than once; having to grind to a halt as a Holy Cow sauntered across the railway tracks. It's had me in splits when its whistle has scared the living daylights out of a defecating local. It's had me wide-eyed by running over the silver coin I've placed in its path, reducing it to a warm, flattened ellipse. It's made me ask my parents endless silly questions about it. And it's made them answer each silly question with utmost patience. The gentle rocking of the train has often been my lullaby on sweltering, restless nights; the thududd-thududd an assurance that everything is as normal as it can be. These little things had become such an integral part of our lives that on subsequent relocations, my parents specifically looked for homes bearing an intimate proximity to a railway line.

Where I live now, the sights & sounds include a sea of humanity & automobiles, festivities, funerals and what-have-you. Everything but the constant. The memories of the railway lines may nestle in a corner of my mind but my parents still live those memories back home. They live next to one to this day...

*****
Image courtesy: Vogue India

It's a common fashion to disagree with what Sapna Bhavnani has to say, but that doesn't necessarily make her wrong. A firebrand acquaintance, more popularly known as M.S. Dhoni's superstar hair-stylist tweeted this gem recently:

When in doubt, open your mouth & spill it out instead of being a diplomatic hypocrite! Burning bridges ain't that bad. You learn to build new ones.

Yes, it ain't that bad. It ain't that easy burning bridges either when life & peace of mind might depend on it. But what good is a marriage of individuals which takes the joy out of living? Life IS after all a jigsaw of good & bad experiences, and some unplanned risks might very well put the puzzle together. Easier said than done Sapna, but a valid point nevertheless.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A MOMENT TO THINK


As the end credits rolled down on Dhobi Ghat, I leaned back in the reclining seat & pondered over the 90 minutes just gone by. This was cinema at its simplistic & realistic best, with some very competent work in every aspect being its enduring pillars. This was also a film that felt oddly incomplete. Yet, in its' paucity it remained poignantly beautiful in its apt casting, near-flawless acting, a lilting background score and the brilliantly shot visuals of parts of Mumbai that we might never get to visit in real life. When I moved to Mumbai 4 years ago, I wanted to explore all the tourist destinations without fail. The curious nomad in me even went to the extent of going it alone when friends came up with one excuse or another for not making it. Somewhere down the line, the eagerness has dulled, the excitement now a pale shadow of what it used to be and the fear of being clustered a cardinal deterrent. Was it also this reminiscence of my past in this city; some recent, some long traversed that moved me? Or the fact that I've always been a sucker for hyperlink cinema? Or that I'm finally falling in love with this city?

Some or all of the above could be true. But for all the nostalgia & respect the film aroused, it ended for me in the most filmy manner, undoing some of the good work that had gone before it. However Jolene, a good friend, an astute mind & a self-professed Mumbaiphile, had this to say to convince me otherwise:

The ending seeming filmy could be metaphorical really, a life-goes-on kind of ending; given that the central protagonist has reached a low point in life where he has suffered personal loss, is literally washing the megapolis' dirty linen, realises how bleak his possibility for becoming a movie star is, and is in love with a woman who's intrigued by someone else. So he runs onto the streets, hero-like, overcoming all obstacles, finds her and gifts her the means to drift away from him (a kind of resignation, and also a subtle way of telling her how he feels about her). The end symbolises the true spirit of Mumbai: whatever happens, we move on.

A friend rued the fact that he'd have to watch it again with his wife, another found the depiction of the locations in the film in bad taste. Yet others warned me not to watch it as it was too slow and were aghast to know I already had & had in fact, liked it. Whatever the true intent of the climax may be, the film succeeds in lingering inside you long after you've exited the cozy darkness of the theatre. As I sped on the now empty roads leading back home, something good from Dhobi Ghat remained etched within me. So I say, thank you Kiran Rao, for a real, unique and melancholy experience. May your tribe increase.

*****

Courtesy: Vergessene Traenen
An anonymous reader was irked by my last post, The Chinky Factor. This is what he/she had to say (abridged):

If you are offended by being called Nepali/Manipuri/Malaysian/Chinese, I am offended by the fact that you find it offensive for being mistaken as these races and nationalities. I found "DEROGATORILY", the word you used to describe your emotion for being called as such, unacceptable. How about the fact that you feeling such is not a derogatory remark to these races? You try to come out as a victim here but who is the victim of your words right now? Please think twice before you write such things in your blog.
Wow! I'm glad the post DID evoke this reaction apart from the encouraging ones (much appreciated). However, my dear friend, if you'd check the phrasing of my sentences again carefully, you'll realise that nowhere do I state that I get offended on being mistaken for another race. What I DO take offense to is the tone & intent of malice while being called as such. I'm sure you understand what I mean, being a Nepali yourself. We could make it so much easier by saying that we are human beings & not a clothing line to be differentiated by our origin or price tag after all, but we know it isn't all that simple. No one's trying to be a victim here.The Chinky Factor is a response to a question asked of me many times over, and a hope that someday, things will be different.

*****


And in conclusion, I'd like to thank each & every one of you out there who've showered encouragement for my current dancing stint on Jhalak Dikkhla Jaa. Deep within, post Indian Idol, I knew I would sing, host, act. But dance??? No way! November 2006 in Bangalore was the first & last time before Jhalak that I ever attempted to move my now-not-so-left two feet. Those six sessions of salsa were liberating but also a source of some embarrassment (I was the proverbial tortoise in learning & my partner was none too amused. Needless to say, I never returned for the next batch). Four years on, being pitted against the likes of Yana, Sushant, Krishna et al is surely daunting, but as my dad always says, “Do what you love. And while you're at it, don't forget to have fun!” I am having fun & learning so much, primarily that if you put your mind to it, nothing is impossible. So keep watching and keep the love pouring in :)